By Rev. Dr. Martha R. Jacobs
As I was walking up the path towards the 9/11 commemoration in Gedney Park this year, I mused to myself that this was the fourth year I was participating. I remembered the first time I arrived for the ceremony. I had been at the First Congregational Church (FCC) for about three weeks, had been asked to participate (I guess because I was “new” to the community), and when I got out of my car, not knowing anyone and not even knowing where to go, there was Robin Stout, one of my congregants and a Town Board member, seemingly waiting to greet me. He took me up the hill and introduced me to just about everyone involved. At the time, I didn’t remember their names, and had no clue that I would be getting so involved in this community. I was so grateful for Robin’s presence with me.
I had been a volunteer chaplain at Ground Zero for several months following the events of that awful morning, had spoken at several conferences in the years following about my work at Ground Zero and my time as President of the New York Disaster Interfaith Services. But I was now in a new community that, for the most part, had no idea of my history and connection to 9/11. Being asked to participate in that ceremony meant more to me than most people realized. I was so grateful to have been asked.
And, now, four years later, I am still being asked to participate.
I knew where I was going and was greeted by so many people, both first responders and members of the wider community and it filled my heart with gratitude. I remain thankful for the opportunity to pause every year to remember those who gave their lives, those who lost their lives and those who continue to struggle with health issues as a result of coming to the rescue of those who were trapped and those who died, as they sought to find the remains of those who died, so that families could have proper burials. And, I pause to remember those police and firefighters and construction workers with whom I sat and talked, and listened to, and cried with and prayed for. And I remember those with whom I walked to the cross that had been found among the rubble of the buildings, that had been placed on a piece of cement for those workers who needed to see a symbol of hope and grace amidst the immense devastation and loss of human life. At the time, there was no explanation as to what happened and why it happened. I will never forget the sounds, the smells and the sights of walking into the wreckage and seeing that metal cross, which also helped me to find the courage to be there with these brave men and women.
My life has been forever changed, forever scarred and forever filled with gratitude for those who put their own lives on the line in order to try to make a difference for those whose loved ones died on that tragic morning. It changed our lives and theirs forever.
Being a part of FCC has changed me forever as well. So has being a part of this community whether through offering prayers at community events at the pagoda, during the Memorial Day commemoration, working with the school district on ensuring the safety of our children, or talking with people at Community Day. I am filled with gratitude that God has called me to serve this community at such a time as this.
Rev. Dr. Martha R. Jacobs is the Senior Minister at the First Congregational Church in Chappaqua.