HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (RNS) For John Mahony, a retired U.S. Army colonel who was managing projects for Blue Cross/Blue Shield, instinct came before analysis as he fought to stay on his feet the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
"The building jerked hard, throwing everyone off balance," remembers Mahony in the account he has written of surviving the 9/11 attacks.
Mahony was working on the 19th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center that morning.
"My support was gone, and I had to catch my balance to remain on my feet."
Mahony had lived in California. "Earthquake," he thought, even as his military training diagnosed "bomb."
Mahony directed his co-workers to a stairway, checked the area for anyone else, and headed down through what was quickly a haze of smoke and dust.
This was when his daily habit of saying the Lord's Prayer bobbed to the surface of his mind, providing a grillwork of stability in the midst of the writhing building.
"As I stepped into that smoky stairway, the Lord's Prayer ran through my mind; over and over and over:'Thy will be done.' At first, I could only get through part of the prayer. But after a few floors, prayer relaxed me and I was able to say it completely."
On what will always be the worst day of his life, Mahony also saw great generosity and courage around him.
"For everyone who was having a hard time with hysterics, there were three or four who went out of their way to offer an arm, an encouraging word or a prayer."
Mahony has found that most people who ask him about that day keep wanting to find out about the tragedy, the chaos of it all. But his most enduring memory comes from the other side of that day.
"There are thousands of stories from 9/11. Some are stories of pain and survival. Many are stories of heroism. Mine is a story of faith."
With hundreds of others, Mahony and his office mates trudged downstairs through the smoky air, grateful that the lights and ventilation remained on.
When the fire sprinklers came on, they grabbed the handrails to keep from being swept off their feet from the waterfalls that ran down the steps.
Firefighters, breathing hard, passed them going up.
But out of the chaos, to the rhythm of the Lord's Prayer, Mahony sensed something that reminded him of when his mother would wrap him up as he'd climb out of a cold swimming pool, and he would be held, safe and warm, in loving arms.
"As I walked down that stair, somewhere between the 12th floor and the 10th, somewhere between'Our Father' and'Thy will be done,' that same feeling came over me. Suddenly, I was wrapped in warmth, and love, and comfort. In that smoky, wet stairway, in a burning building, surrounded by a thousand frightened people; I felt wonder. I felt God's peace, and I knew that regardless of the physical outcome, everything would be all right."
The group came out into a smashed lobby, service elevator shafts open and filled with rubble.
A firefighter directed him to a side door, saying that he couldn't go out the front; people were jumping.
"I moved through the rubble of the lobby vaguely registering impressions of a woman receiving oxygen, a heavyset woman crying as she was carried over the back of a co-worker, another who was so badly burned that I could not tell the original color of her skin."
Outside, he ran through a scene, he said, from a post-apocalyptic movie: cars on fire, chunks of metal and glass in the street, lots of shoes. He had just crossed the street to the far side when the sound of jet engines made him look up. The second jet collided with the second tower.
"At first it didn't look real. The building seemed to absorb the jet as if it were some macabre magic trick. Then the glass wall rippled and glass and jet fuel exploded outward and spilled down the side of the building."
Only after he had run a few blocks, getting away from the debris, did he turn to look again.
"The dawning realization that a pilot could abandon those in his care and intentionally fly into a building suddenly hit me. It made me sick."
So did the hundreds of bodies falling through the air because people above the crash chose to jump.
"Each new descending body emphasized how terrible the conditions were on the upper floors."
Then the first tower collapsed, sending a billow of ash out that seemed to embody evil.
"I try not to ascribe human emotion to inanimate things, but the debris cloud seemed malevolent. It roiled with greenish brown smoky shadows deep within the white dust. And it was fast. It was warm, not as hot as a sauna, but close. It itched. Thousands of cement particles whose edges had not yet worn smooth went into my nose, eyes, and ears and down my shirt."
Mahony was trapped on the south side of the building, the tip of Manhattan at Battery Park. All he could do was watch and pray.
"My prayers continued, but now with a difference. For the most part, I stayed with the Lord's Prayer, but Jesus seemed so close, that I added specific prayers for those we passed. There was the overwhelming sense of the physical presence of Jesus. He was radiating that sense of love, compassion, and peace that I was feeling."
Despite the horror of that day, Mahony reached a deeper sense of the suffering, abiding compassion of Jesus, of the durability of the peace of God in the midst of death and destruction.
It was only later that Mahony learned that the smoke he inhaled in the six hours before he managed to leave the area would leave him with health issues that will shorten his own life. In the years since the attacks, he realized he was also left with insights that have enriched every day of his life since the attacks.
"When I walked from those ruined towers, I took two priceless gifts with me. First, I carry God's peace with me every day. Even if I get distracted, Christ's love is all around us. It takes just a few lines from a simple prayer for it to wrap itself around me once again.
"Second, I know, with a certainty that my words cannot possibly convey, I know what will happen to me when I die. I will rise from this shell, like a child fresh and clean from a bath, and I will be wrapped in the warmth of His love and His forgiveness and His peace."
(Kay Campbell writes for The Huntsville Times in Huntsville, Ala.)
A Christian Prayer "It is not those who say, 'Lord, Lord!' who will enter the reign of God, but those who do God's will." (Matthew 7:21) God of all races, nations, and religions, You know that we cannot change others, Nor can we change the past. But we can change ourselves. We can join You in changing our only And common future where you 'reign' The same over all. Help us not to say, "Lord, Lord" to any tribal gods, But to hear the One God of all the earth, And to do God's good thing for this One World.
A Baha'i Prayer O my God! O my God! Unite the hearts of Thy servants, and reveal to them Thy great purpose. May they follow Thy commandments and abide in Thy law. Help them, O God, in their endeavor, and grant them strength to serve Thee. O God! Leave them not to themselves, but guide their steps by the light of Thy knowledge, and cheer their hearts by Thy love. Verily, Thou art their Helper and their Lord. -- Baha'u'llah
A Buddhist Reflection Willa, my godchild, was three, and lived 2 blocks away from the WTC on Sept 11, 2001. She was 7 years old at the time of the London metro bombing. On being told about the London terrorism, her eyes ﬁlled with tears and she said, "Mom, we should say a prayer." Willa begin with, "May the bad people remember the love in their hearts." I think of Willa and her prayer -- when I have been hurt or harmed, when I myself make a mistake, when I feel the need to try to start over, however difﬁcult that may feel. Whatever has happened or is happening in our lives, may we all remember the love in our hearts. Lovingkindness meditation You can sit comfortably, or lie down if that seems preferable. Close your eyes, or leave them slightly open. This practice is done through the silent repetition of certain phrases. You need not try to force an emotion or a certain sentiment. The power of the practice comes from gathering all our attention around one phrase at a time. If your attention slips, gently let go of the distraction, and simply begin again repeating the phrases. Remember to repeat them with enough space and enough silence that the rhythm is pleasing to you. This is the song of your heart. We begin with directing the phrases towards ourselves, as though offering ourselves a gift. You can experiment with the wording, but it can be as simple as, "May I remember, and abide in the love in my heart." After a few minutes think of someone who has helped you -- a benefactor or a friend. You can repeat the same phrase as an offering to them, "May you remember, and abide in the love in your heart." When you feel ready, move on to someone you hardly know, a near stranger. Perhaps the checkout person at the grocery store you shop at, or a friend of a friend of a friend. "May you remember, and abide in the love in your heart." Then someone you are annoyed at, or have some difﬁculty with. "May you remember, and abide in the love in your heart." And ﬁnally, an immense expanse of lovingkindness. "May all beings remember, and abide in the love in our hearts." When you are ready, you can end the meditation, and see if you can bring some of this consciousness into your day.
A Secular Reflection Tragedy can teach us many lessons. From pain, we can learn compassion. From division, we can learn solidarity. And when our world is shattered, as it was on September 11, 2001, we can learn to seek understanding. On that violent day which shook us silent, America fractured. The lines between "us" and "them" grew thicker, darker, and harsher, muddying our shared humanity. We have since inhabited the shadows they cast, shouting at one another from across divides. On this, the tenth anniversary of that heartbreaking day, we mourn and remember those we lost and all who were affected. But we are also given an opportunity: to overcome the lie of "them" and "I" and learn to live together. The terrorists of 9/11 were guided by a narrative of intercultural incompatibility. But as people of diverse religious and secular identities, we can prove them wrong in our unity. By building bridges of understanding, we can emerge from the shadows and learn -- from one another -- how to be our best selves.
A Christian Prayer Be Close to Me Loving God, You know that I believe in you. You know that I trust in you. You know that I love you. But sometimes life is so painful, your ways impossible to understand, and your world so confusing. Sometimes I am overwhelmed with pain. Sometimes I feel tempted to despair. Sometimes I give way to hatred. Sometimes I doubt even you. In times of pain, give me comfort. In times of despair, give me hope. In times of hatred, give me love. In times of doubt, give me trust. And even when I feel far from you, be close to me, Loving God.
A Hindu Prayer As glass shattered, cement crumbled and steel melted in the inferno of senseless cruelty, the heart of humanity screamed in anguish. September 11, 2001 -- a day when the evil potential of misguided ego was again exposed. While our landmarks collapsed in a cloud of smoke and debris, beneath a surge of shock and rage, something awakened in our hearts: compassion. Suddenly, our worldly obsessions faded away as we cried for the plight of others and were deeply affected by our ﬁremen's sacriﬁce. In memory of this tragic day, let us join hands and pray for God's grace to heal, unite and empower us to serve with love.
A Jewish Prayer Dear God, how do we pray for what was lost? We cannot pray for deliverance or a miracle, for the tragedy has already burned itself into our souls. Children have grown fatherless. Families are long since bereaved. We know there is no prayer to change the past. So we pray to live with memory, with constant love, with the promise both to combat evil and to cherish goodness. Do not let our pain cloud our hopes or crush our hearts. Help us grow through this tragedy, keep faith with its victims, and sustain our trust in You.
A Spiritual Reflection Every person can recall what it was like. In the massive unfolding tragedy you looked at television or to the sky, and you felt inside your skin the death of hope that anyone would survive. A shadow blotted out joy, and behind the shadow, evil worked to make sure that joy never returned. Of course that can't happen. No one can be in pain forever. Fear isn't here to stay. It just felt that way. Suffering can be defined as the pain that makes life seem meaningless. Animals suffer, of course, and often deeply. Some are capable of mourning for their kind if one dies. Humans, however, are subject to complex inner pain that includes fear, guilt, shame, grief, rage and hopelessness. It was an illusion to think that our society was immune to such suffering. That illusion abruptly burst on Sept. 11. Around me people reached out, beseechingly, for how to cope with their suffering. I offered this: "Don't be afraid to ask for contact. Reach out and tell your loved ones that you do love them, don't let it be taken for granted. Feel your fear. Be with it and allow it to be released naturally. Pray. Grieve with others if you can, alone if you must." I would offer the same today.
A Christian Prayer Lord, we remember the old hymn, "O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home." In these days, help us return not only to our hurt but to Your help, and let us go on to help others because of what we have been through together. O God of resurrection, from the destruction of precious lives and presumed security, bring forth faith, hope, and courage. From safety weapons cannot offer, let us find security in Your arms. And let us follow You all the way Home.
A Jewish Prayer The tenth anniversary of 9/11 falls during Elul, the month of preparation for the New Year. Our work is chesbon ha nefesh, an accounting of the soul, as individuals and as a community. Where have we been? Where are we now? What is the vision of the future we long to create? We hear the sounds of the shofar, the ram's horn. May these sounds remind us of those whose lives were lost, and bring comfort to those who loved them. May these sounds challenge us to ask what we have done over these years to bring healing to our world. May these sounds empower us to work together for peace.
A Hindu Prayer As we remember 9/11 ten years later, let us recognize that true peace is an internal process and introspective journey. Let us vow to transform our world by transforming ourselves. And let us take to heart the ancient invocation from the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad: "May we move from ignorance to truth, May we move from darkness to light, May we move from death to immortality, And may all beings find peace." Om Shanti Shanti Om...
A Muslim Prayer God of all nations, look with favor upon this great nation as we remember the tragic terrorist attacks of 9/11 in its 10th anniversary. Be our source of strength, healing and comfort as our wounds still bleed. God of wisdom and compassion, You create eventual blessings out of every kind of evil. Make us instruments and agents of such creation as we strive to turn the post-9/11 challenges into opportunities and blessings for others and ourselves. God of mercy and grace, we bring up the immediate victims and their loved ones of these heinous acts into your attention. Be their light in these moments of darkness and difficulty. God of hope and glory, do not let our hopes overcome by our fears. Do not let our souls crippled by despair. Be our source of hope and guidance in these times of sorrow and mourning. Oh God, if we forget You. Do not forget us. In your most Holy and Beautiful names we pray. Amen.
A Christian Prayer Loving God of Peace: On this anniversary of unbelievable sorrow, comfort those who mourn, and guide our hearts toward healing and hope. Remind us of the love of Christ, love which leapt over cultural and ethnic boundaries to feed the hungry, seek the lost and care for the least. Make of Your children, no matter how we name You, one human family, bound together in the work of justice and peacemaking. Make us one with the Light that shines in the darkness and illumines a path toward understanding and reconciliation. Let love be our genuine call. Amen.
A Sikh Prayer The One Universal Creator of all, our Divine Mother and Father In Your blessings we find true and lasting comfort and peace Grant healing and solace to our wounded hearts Grant us strength to bear the loss of loved ones and to live in Your Will Grant us resilience in the face of hate, and the courage to face it with dignity May we all unite and share one another's pain and tears May the hatred in the world melt away in Your boundless and everlasting love And living in Your Will, may all find peace, harmony and serenity.
A Christian Prayer Dear God: Thou who has been our help in ages past, thou who dispenses your comfort to all those who mourn. We seek your grace to strengthen us as we commemorate the lives of loved ones who have been lost on this day of anguish for our country and our world. Wipe away the blinding tears that plummet down our cheeks like gushing streams of an overflowing riverbank. Our heavy hearts still search for the solace of your guidance through the maze of pain and the myriad of complex issues such tragedy releases. Though hurt, we are compelled to commemorate those who are fallen on this day. Remember those who may not have lost a life but instead they lost a limb, those who gave their health for our wholeness, those who lost their emotional stability to help us regain our national security. From first responders to heroic citizens we ask for your grace for these hurting heroes who often suffer in total silence. Fill the arms of mothers left empty and heal the hearts of fathers whose ears strain to remember the sound of fading laughter and frolic of children now gone. Wrap your arms around those who lost wives and husbands, parents, friends and confidantes on this day of terroristic espionage. Let that day which exhibited the worst in man be the catalyst of also revealing the best in our human hearts to love each other. In spite of such pain we honor you as the God and guide who has enabled us to endure what we thought was impossible. Thank you for your sovereign grace that guides us beyond one moment of terror to a collective and individual destiny beyond that moment. Thank you for the occasional smile, the splendor of sunsets and the brilliance of sunrise. Since then you have granted us new friends and a renewed sense of purpose. Like stars in our night you have given us light in the midst of dark places for which we are so grateful. Watch over us with your omniscient eye grating us your continued protection. Our enemies remain unrelenting. In the true spirit of our faith, we also pray for our enemies. Let the message of your love and light extend not only to those who mourn but to those who hate, that they might realize that hate will not replace the better choice of debate nor will destruction reconstruct the common chord of our shared brotherhood as human beings. Have mercy on the pain and misguidance that would make them seek the horrific option of destruction. Guide them to the light of your love. Teach us collectively, the power of that love, the simple riches of your peace. Show us that the indomitable spirit of self-preservation need not lead us to the selfish indulgence of blind devastation and the malicious disregard for each other. You are the God of all people, the father of every soul. Lord, teach your children to love each other as much as they profess to love you. In Jesus Christ's name we pray.
A Pagan Blessing By the Earth that is Her body By the Air that is Her breath By the Fire of Her bright spirit By the Waters of her living womb Let the Peace of the Goddess grow in our hearts. Peace as we honor our dead with undying memory. Peace as the tears of grief are shed. Peace as we remember the world sharing our pain. Peace as the flood waters are receding. Peace as we understand that we are all mostly water. Literally. Let the waters of compassion flow. Let the healing continue. We are whole. Blessed be.
A Christian Prayer God of love we place in your loving arms the thousands of innocent lives that were lost on that unforgettable morning of September 11, 2001. We also remember the courage of the countless men and women who put their lives at risk in order to rescue, alleviate and bring solace to the afflicted. Help us to continue to work for a world free from every form of hatred, violence and ignorance. May terrorism -- in all its forms -- disappear from the face of the earth. Amen.