"[This book] embodies the Buddhist wisdom about change, life, and the
world more than anything written after the events of that day."
September 2006 Archives
« Previous · Home · Next »
September 30, 2006
AT THE FRONTIER
On September 11, 2001, Carmen Taylor, an Arkansas tourist, was standing in line to board the State Island Ferry. People murmured in the crowd upon hearing an explosion and then seeing smoke rising from the north tower of the World Trade Center. Several minutes later, at 9:03 a.m.,Taylor trained her digital camera on what she believed to be a military aircraft sweeping across the sky and took one of the most stunning images of 9/11: the second hijacked plane, photographed dead-on from the perspective of its tail section, left wing tilted upward, just as it collided with the south tower. Her picture would soon run in newspapers and on Web sites all over the world.
As a way of educating people back home in Arkansas about the lasting impact of that day, Taylor, in the summer of 2006, organized a photo exhibition at the University of Arkansas in Fort Smith, soliciting images from two dozen photographers. The show was the most popular in the institution's history. For the closing week, she invited me to speak to the students at U of A and to attend two book signings in her hometown, snug up against the Oklahoma border.
This is certainly the frontier. The famous town gallows, graced with a spanking coat of white paint, still sits near the banks of the Arkansas River. Down near the abandoned warehouses, stands Miss Laura's -- actually Belle Starr's legendary house of ill repute (now spruced up a toursist attraction, adorned with festive Christmas lights). There are tractors and river barges, the O.K. Feed Mill and D & D Gun & Pawn Shop. Several times yesterday, companions referred to the ranch and farmlands to the west as the old Indian terrirtories. The local daily, the Times Record, has an eight-page Religion section, replete with notices for an upcoming Pet Blessing at Trinity Episcopal ("all pets must be on a leash, in a cage or secured"), quotations from the Scripture (Galations 5:15: "You shall love your neighor as your own self"), a lead feature on Bible-themed video games, and a two-page spread entitled "Fort Smith & River Valley Guide to Area Churches," listing the times of worship at 308 Christian houses of prayer, 70 non-denominational churches, and one synagogue. I got a Cook's Tour from the university's jack-of-all-trades and arts coordinator Stacey Jones and from local journalists Linda Seubold and Lynn Wasson -- along with a warm welcome from the ebullient mayor, Ray Baker, who sang the town anthem ("Life's worth livin' in Fort Smith, Arkansas"), proclaimed this weekend "David Friend Days," and handed me the key to the city.
At the university's book signing, Tammy Malone bought two copies of Watching the World Change -- one for each of her daughters, Caitlyn, 6, and Carly, 3, "for when they grow up, for history's sake." (Five mothers at various signings have done the same, asking me to inscribe the book to their children so that in years to come they can share the narrative and lessons of September 11.) Chuck Booker, who had served 21 years as a bandmaster in the U.S. Army, bought a copy to send off to his son Erik, 34, of the First Infantry -- now in Kuwait, about to begin his second tour in Iraq.
Later in the day, during a slide show of images from the book, I looked out into the audience to see a woman wiping away tears. Another woman approached me, visibly upset, and opened the book to a news photo of a single man plummetting head-first to his death. "Why did you have to put this in there?" she asked, almost shaking. I could only explain that very few pictures of that day showed death up close and that this image forced us to confront that raw reality so that, five years on, we would remember the brutality and wouldn't allow ourselves to forget or become complacent. (The image, taken by Richard Drew of the Associated Press, is described at length in the book, on pages 135-141.)
Bookstore director Rodney Wallace walked over and opened a photo album emblazoned with a brown-and-green cover showing mallards in marshes. Inside, amid pictures of his children, he kept a snapshot taken from the top of the Empire State Building in 1993. On his first-ever trip to New York, he had been photographing at the very moment the World Trade Center was first attacked by al-Qaeda operatives. "I was scared," he recalled. "You didn't know what was happening. The fire and smoke started spreading." Eight years later, on 9/11, he explained, he had just received a shot for a migraine headache that morning, when he saw the televised sequence of the second plane's assault. "My wife said, 'This is the start of World War III' and I got this thing of despair. I felt sick. I started throwing up." By now he had closed his photo album. I nodded in response, commiserated, and understood how the events of September 11 still had the power to shake people all across the nation.
In the evening, another man, who will remain anonymous, shared a different view. "There are a lot of 'Good Ol' Boys' out here, with their camouflage ballcaps," he confided. "A lot of 'em. I know them. They don't think about nine-eleven. It didn't effect them. It didn't happen here. They don't ever think about New York." What about the bombings in Oklahoma City?, I asked, realizing the city's proximity to Fort Smith. "A lot of them agreed with [the bombers]. They thought government had it coming." What about the children in the day-care centers who died? "They had it coming to 'em, that's what they think. They have their [shotguns] -- it's only recently we had to take them down from the gun racks [on our trucks and vans]. They have their land. And that's it. You come after them, they'll use 'em."
Despite this chilly nightcap, the outpouring of warmth I had felt throughout this crisp September day was quite moving, heartening, sincere. I realized: I might have been given the key to the city, but there was a lot of Fort Smith that would remain safely locked away.
September 26, 2006
YES, THAT PHOTO
Richard Cohen, in today's Washington Post, continues the give-and-take about Thomas Hoepker's September 11 picture (see the September 10 and 13 items, herewith) -- an image that over the past few weeks has become something of a photo-Rorschach for the blogosphere. See links, below, to pieces by Frank Rich (who got the blogs rolling), Slate's David Plotz and two of the actual subjects of the photo, etc. APOLOGIES: Due to the Post's firewall, I cannot provide a live link to Cohen's column. Hunt and peck (and pay the ante to the Post) and ye shall be rewarded.
September 19, 2006
COURSES, CRITICS, COMMENTS
Two professors have written to say they will teach Watching the World Change in their classes – one this fall, at Columbia; another in the spring, at Amherst.
The reviews continue to be kind. The San Francisco Chronicle calls the book “powerful, riveting, often emotional, [a] tour d’horizon… Its author never los[es] sight of the human lives lost. It is a tribute to Friend’s sense of proportion – and to his essential humanity.” The Chicago Tribune considers it “riveting…wide-ranging and stimulating [by] a skilled and lively writer.” The Hartford Courant asserts that it “covers the visual record of post 9/11 America with the same attention to detail and hard analysis that David Halberstam devotes to political events. The result is an engaging account that makes readers feel that no image is really complete until we understand the history behind it.” The Christian Science Monitor summarizes the book “a fascinating day by day account…with perceptive commentary.” Atlanta Life says: “At times, his eloquent prose reads like poetry that begs to be reread….Friend’s book forces us to remember what we want to forget.”
And the comments pour forth via e-mail…
Connie Maschera, from Woodstock, Georgia:
I first fell in love with New York City in 1969 (my first visit) and it has been a love affair that has lasted a lifetime. My oldest son went to graduate school there and I visited often. One of my favorite things to do in NYC, was ride the Staten Island ferry. I loved that view of the towering buildings of lower Manhattan.
In March of 2003, I was in the city, visiting a friend. I rode the subway alone down to ground zero and then took my customary ride on the ferry. It was my first trip to NYC after 9/11. As the ferry pulled away, I had tears rolling down my face at my first sight of the receding skyline that was once my favorite view of the city. A man standing next to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "I ride this ferry every day and it is a sight that you never get used to." We chatted for a while and parted on the other side and I rode back.
It was a sad day spent walking the streets of lower Manhattan, reflecting on all the lives lost, and the scar that remains in this city that I love. The buses full of tourists seemed almost a sacrilege.
We may have moved on, but we certainly have not forgotten.
Michele Slung, from Woodstock, New York, writes to say she has been put off by online columnists debating Thomas Hoepker and William Lamson photos below (in the September 10 and 13 entries):
It was one of the most beautiful mornings ever woken up to, and how do people not in the shadow, not running for their lives (possibly not even aware of the total vast enormity of the event at that moment) look suitably distressed? Jaws agape, grimacing, clutching their heads, writhing on the ground? Who knows what they were saying or thinking? Am I missing something here? The sky was indeed that glorious blue everywhere in the region, as I don't have to tell you: that was the way the world looked beyond the smoke and falling ash of Tribeca.
These pictures for me embody the insanely hard-to-take-in contrast of the morning --- the hijackers could just as easily have had something like the rainy gloom of so many recent days. But the day they got turned out to be perfect for heightening the disjunction and disbelief, and Lamson has a point about simply not knowing what was to come, imagining it would be "fixed," that a relaxed-seeming spectator's attitude really just indicates no pre-vision. At that moment, the horror was contained and the banality of everyday life maintained; soon, though, the horror was everywhere. Yet people have gone on living their lives and can't help being out in the sunshine, so to speak.
What these images are are "elephants" for columnists, commentators and bloggers, who see what their predispositions or agendas would have them see. To me, they are simply pictures dramatically showing the truth of the morning.
September 15, 2006
Dueling bloggos...electronic salvoes. This week, various online columnists have been examining the myriad layers of meaning in (or potential misinterpretations of) a photograph that was taken on 9/11 by Thomas Hoepker and then not published in the U.S. until it appeared in my book, more than four years after the attacks. (See photo in September 10 entry, below.) Today, the most blogged-about entries in this debate: a thoughtful piece by Hoepker (for Slate); an item on Hoepker's piece (on Gawker); and a follow-up column by the sage who got everyone squawking in the first place, Frank Rich of the Times.
Here is a link to Rich's Web-only piece, posted late today. (Alas, I'm not savvy enough to know how to swipe long passages from behind firewalls, so, if you want to read Rich's latest, you'll have to go here and register for Times Select.) Rich, like Hoepker, defends ambiguity in pictures. He quotes Auden. He tamps down the fuss, explaining that he was merely suggesting what the photo suggested -- not imposing a political or psychological agenda on the subjects depicted in the photo. He mentions another 9/11 photo -- revealed in my last post, directly below this one -- a picture published here for the first time. He even takes a moment to call Watchnig the World Change "surely the most original treatment so far of the cultural impact of the day that changed everything except that it didn't." Brilliant guy, that Rich.
September 13, 2006
RE: POSE -- REPOSE?
The blogs have been abuzz about Frank Rich's assertion, in the Sunday New York Times, that a photo reproduced in my book -- taken on 9/11 by Thomas Hoepker and unpublished for four years -- seemed to embody the post-9/11 mindset: a gung-ho American impulse to get on with our lives and put terror behind us. (To see the photo, scroll down to the September 10 item, below. To read Rich's engaging column, click here.)
Now comes a similar image, sent to me by e-mail from a photographer named William Lamson. "I thought you might be interested in this photograph," Lamson writes, "as a counterpoint to the Thomas Hoepker image that Frank Rich referred to in his article. Rather than indifference, I think this picture shows the profound lack of understanding of what would happen on that day. It's hard to believe that I actually remember thinking that they would put out the fires eventually, rebuild, etc.
"Like Hoepker's image," Lamson continues, "this photograph has never been published, but not for lack of trying. I sent it to [the] NY Times, Time magazine, [The] New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and many more. Anyway, its first public appearance is at the Brooklyn Museum's current show, 'Looking Back from Ground Zero.' The image is not on the Web site, though."
Here, with the photographer's permission, the image appears online for the first time. And the debate continues...
Photograph by William Lamson, September 11, 2001
Some of yesterday's volleys can be found at Slate, Gawker, WordYard, and A Typical Joe.
A FEW GOOD CLICKS
In terms of images and testimonies related to the events of September 11 and their aftermath, the Web has become something of a common hearth. I encourage every visitor here to stop in at In Remembrance, created by Fred Ritchin and his team at Pixel Press.
I highly recommend a visit to the new fifth-anniversary-related entries on Jeff Jarvis's influential BuzzMachine. Jeff, it so happens, was kind enough to take pity on this cyber-challenged writer during my first venture into blogging. He gave me coding, e-mail, and photo-posting lessons. He was patient with my naive and endless queries. It was Jeff who actually urged me to set up this Web site in the first place. Jeff is always self-sacrificing in this way, always spreading the citizen-journalist and blogging gospel. (Sorry, Teach. I've linked to BuzzMachine, but I'm still not adept at linking, individually, to the half-dozen separate posts on the site.)
I've been really pleased to see that Watching the World Change has such a wide online footprint. Various sites have taken it upon themselves to create their own interactive features based on the book. Check out vanityfair.com, NPR, AOL, The New York Times Book Review, The Digital Journalist, and Life.com. Two sites offer videos of on-air appearances: ABC's Good Morning America and The Charlie Rose Show. And there are related links posted at places like Oprah.com and The Moorish Girl. [I will add the live links when I get a moment to go on a Mac! I'm currently on my daughter's PC, which always has me navigating to electronic cul-de-sacs.]
September 11, 2006
THE 5TH 11TH
Spent much of the morning near the site, shuttling between press interviews for the book and looking down into that sacred, scarred space. Family members of the deceased were everywhere in the streets, walkways, lobbies: from firefighters and military men in their dress uniforms to two dozen "Friends of Emily," in matching T-shirts. The reading of the names, this year, seemed as painful as it had on that first anniversary. The A's then the H's then the M's and N's seemed to take up not minutes, but seasons. Every time I thought I heard the growl of a far-off aircraft, I would recoil a little.
And the sky, the morning, the air itself was as fresh and autumnal as they had been on that day long gone.
It is better, I think, to let others speak today. Here, then, are some messages from my in-box...
From John Yohalem, of New York City:
"I can't see the south tower," I said.
"That's cause it ain't there no more," said my neighbor. He pointed out the top 20 or so stories of the remaining tower were charred a different color than the rest.
…I walked the bike over the Manhattan Bridge amid thick crowds, impressively integrated, impressively orderly, calm, bewildered. The churches were all open, and full. The stench in Brooklyn was terrible. On a stone wall sat a dozen Middle Eastern looking men in a row. They were the only ones who didn't look dazed -- they looked depressed. They knew who was going to get blamed for all this.
Next day I went to visit my greataunt Lilian on East 86th. She was 101, still very much in possession of her considerable collection of marbles.
"What's the mood out there?" Aunt Lilian asked me.
From Julie Anne Fidler, no addres given:
From Timothy, no address given:
That Tuesday morning… I "plugged in.” As I was handling requests, I noticed some bustling going on across the room. As I took the next call, a woman said. "Send help quick! A plane just crashed into my building!" I asked if this was a joke, and she replied "Can't you see me?" I thought she was nuts. I asked where she was. She replied "The World Trade Center!" I jumped up and asked someone if the WTC had been hit by a plane. It had, and that was what the disruption was. I told the woman to evacuate, as we knew about the problem. "Oh, OK- Thank you!" she said.
The flood of calls was unbelievable. One guy called asking me for Shearson/Lehman on a specific road in Upstate NY. As I was checking, he said, "Boy! You guys must be hopping over there!" I replied [that] it was busy, and he said, "Well, I am in Tower 2." In an instant, I do not know why, but I hit the PRINT SCREEN key. I said, “Guy! Get out of there!” He told me that he was there in '93 and he had gone down a few flights but was given the ALL CLEAR and he just returned to his office. While we were conversing, Tower 2 was struck. I heard it all: the glass, the wind, the screaming. By some miracle, we were still connected. He found the phone and began to dial over me. When he realized I was there, he begged me to stay with him. I told him I would. He basically gave me his personal info, who his wife was, what number to call her at, and what he wanted to say. He was going to die. He knew it, I knew it.
I wrote it down and stayed with him ‘til the connection was lost. The tower fell just after.
It hadn't hit me yet. I knew what happened, but it hadn't registered yet. The worst part was talking to people in the coming weeks about how to locate lost loved ones. There was no number to give. It was havoc.
September 10, 2006
A SCENE GROWS IN BROOKLYN
Here is the image, by Thomas Hoepker of Magnum Photos, mentioned in Sunday's compelling Frank Rich column in The New York Times. Taken in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, on September 11, 2001, it shows a disorientingly tranquil and schizophrenic scene: a handful of young people, as if on a lunch break or taking a breather from a bike ride, while catastrophe looms in the distance. "It's a kind of troubling picture," Hoepker says in Watching the World Change. "The sun was shining....It's possible they lost people and cared. [But] the idyllic quality turned me off."
It took the photographer four years before he felt inclined to publish it, fearing that the image, if shown too soon after the attacks, might have invited a certain complacency in the viewer, instead of the outrage or anguish the situation demanded. Indeed, the picture's postmodern stasis didn't meet any of our standard expectations of what a September 11 photograh should look like.
"Over time, with perspective, it grew in importance," Hoepker now says. "It's a very contemporary picture: The bright colors are up front [but] it has that touch of neutrality, a coolness, a bit of a distance to suffering and not trusting of emotions.... It took a while for the news to sink in. It took a while to know how to react."
Photo (c) Copyright: Thomas Hoepker/Magnum Photos
September 9, 2006
TO EACH, HIS OWN
The e-mails, letters, and notes come in from those wanting to talk about their September 11...
From Ariel Ruiz i Altaba, in Switzerland:
From Shekhar Iyer, in India:
From Sondra Boyd, in Ohio:
My daughter called me [two times and] related the terrible news. [She was] trying to describe the horrible pictures and events that followed, with tears in her voice. She was very hard to understand, barely able to put two thoughts together to make a complete sentence. It was all just so unbelievable. We ask[ed] our "Boss” [if] we could turn on his television or radio and see what was going on. He said no…, that if it was that big, we could see it on the evening news.
Little did any of us know how this one act would change our world and the way we looked at another's world. It's still just so… hard for me, a Christian, to understand how one human being can do the terrible things that they do, to another human being -- not only the attacks on 9-11 but every day such as you see and hear on the television and in the newspapers: the wars that are started just because one believes in God one way and another...
A few pinhole impressions from this pinwheel of a week:
Last night, under a beige moon, I stood at 1 Police Plaza, walked under the Brooklyn Bridge, watched the night sweep over the towers surrounding Pace University. The buildings seemed scrawny compared to what had once stood nearby. The only sign of towering strength: the blue beam of light piercing the evening clouds (only one shone last night; two will shine tomorrow), commemorating an ever present Absence.
...On Sunday night, CBS will air 9/11. The documentary began as a coming-of-age tale of a young probie earning his spurs at the Duane Street firehouse, just blocks from the World Trade Center. It ended as the Zapruder film of the September 11 attacks. My friends Gedeon and Jules Naudet -- French filmmakers, brothers, and truly courageous young men -- shot inside and outside the towers, non-stop, surviving the twin collapse of the towers and coming away with footage that is unlike any other shot that day. (The Naudets, along with Graydon Carter, James Hanlon, Susan Zirinsky and I, served as executive producers.)
It is particularly galling to note that even though the documentary aired twice in the U.S. in 2002 (winning Emmy and Peabody Awards, airing in 140 countries, and raising $2 million for charitable causes), the current cultural climate is so warped in this country that several CBS affiliates have threatened not to air the show because of its graphic nature and because people utter obscenities in the two-hour broadcast. Judging by the fuss that the proposed ban has caused, it seems that in 2006 many people consider the documentary more obscene than the terrorist acts depicted in it. What a difference a couple of years, a clothing malfunction, a Mob-Rule mentality, a calcified Congress, and an emboldened F.C.C., make.
….Garrison Keillor’s generous review of Watching the World Change in The New York Times last Sunday set off an avalanche of good will (e-mails, letters, shout-outs at work, and phone calls from old acquaintances looking for money. I was happy, even giddy, to oblige).
….Richard Woodward’s review in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday raised the question: After all that has been written about the events, do we “now need to commemorate the lives of the documentarians [i.e. photographers]” as well? His answer? “Mr. Friend makes a convincing case that we should. His book is a fast-paced chronicle of that chaotic week as seen from those behind the lens. He turns a familiar story around and helps us understand why we saw events as we did.”
September 7, 2006
Last night, I attended the opening of a photo exhibition at the Fire Museum on 278 Spring Street (at Hudson and Varick). The show, "Faces of Ground Zero," is a collection of haunting, larger-than-life-sized Polaroids, shot by Joe McNally, depicting people who responded to the attacks with particular distinction, selflessness, and valor: firefighters, paramedics, fighter pilots, police officers, emergency teams.
At the reception, I spoke with Joanne Foley Gross and her mother, Patricia Foley. In my book, Joanne appears in a photo (also on exhibit last night and for the next few weeks) holding her brother Tommy's recovered fire helmet, tears in her eyes and on her cheek, bearing a truly inconsolable expression. "At first, I refused to be photographed," she now says, remembernig how she rebuffed phone calls from Nina Sabo, who was coordinating the shoots. "Nina called seven times. I kept saying, 'No.' The eighth time, something made me agree. [I] guess I wanted something that said, 'This is everlasting.'"
In 2000, her brother Tommy Foley had already become something of an FDNY poster boy. He had famously saved a highrise window-washer when his scaffolding collapsed. Graced with an actor's good looks, he appeared on calendars, on The Sopranos television show, and was named to two of People magazine's Hot Lists: The Sexiest Men At Work and, yes, America's Most Eligible Bachelors. He was 33 years old.
Along with his colleagues from Rescue 3, Tommy raced to the World Trade Center five years ago this week, and then went missing for ten days. Every morning, beginning on September 12, Joanne's firefighter brother, Danny, and Joanne's husband, K.C. (sometimes accompanied by Tommy's father), would go down to Ground Zero. Danny had vowed to his parents that he wouldn't stop searching until he could personally "bring Tommy home." Danny and K.C. spent their days and many nights assisting others in the massive recovery effort. Joanne would remark: "Every morning, it was like sending them off to war."
On the tenth day, September 21, Joanne's father, down at the site, looked through a pair of binoculars and spotted the "3," from a Rescue 3 helmet, peeping out of the rubble. They began digging. And, then and there, they say, uncovered the remains of Tommy Foley. "It was a miracle," recalls his mother, Pat.
Five years later, Tommy and his loss are ever present in his family's life. His father is now on two inhalers a day, Pat says, due to ailments suffered while down at Ground Zero. "My husband, 'til this day, goes to the cememtery twice a day, every day." Joanne concurs, "[He] doesn't miss a day, unless he's on vacation." Pat, a retired nurse and the owner of an ice cream store near Nyack, volunteers several times a month as a tour guide for the Tribute Center, the new facility which officially opened yesterday. (It will serve as a museum and gathering place until a bona fide memorial is established.) She walks visitors around the site and the Tribute Center exhibition space, and tells them about the World Trade Center, the events of that day, the work of the first responders, and her own family's story.
Joanne, for her part, allows, "My heart is still broken. It feels [like] not even a year, not five years. Now there's two of us"--meaning two siblings. "Tommy's on our shoulders."
Also on display at the Fire Museum gallery is a photo of Danny, his uniform covered in dirt, his expression dazed though determined, as a soldier might look, having come back from battle. Danny, formerly of Engine 68, has now transferred to Tommy's squad. Every day, he wears a Rescue 3 helmet. "They all look after him," says his mother.
September 3, 2006
"PEOPLE GOT UNDER THE PEWS"
Spoke to the Revered Stuart Hoke this week. Ever since September 11, he has been keeping the faith, in a thousand ways, at St. Paul's Chapel, part of Trinity Church (the so-called "little chapel that could," which survived despite its proximity to the former World Trade Center). Hoke was at the spiritual epicenter of the tragedy and has remained there ever since. The chapel, he says, welcomes between 25,000 and 45,000 visitors a week, the crowds getting larger with each passing year.
He is reading Watching the World Change, he says, and is busy helping to coordinate the church's September 11 plans, but he took time to share his memories from 2001 and to explain how his life has been transformed over the last five years.
On the morning of 9/11, he says, he saw the attacks from the corner of Liberty and Greenwich Streets. At the advice of the rector, he quickly sought cover in the church with the organist and struggled to come up with prayers, songs, and words of insight for the throngs of worshippers who continued to stream in through the doors of the nave. He began what he calls "an impromptu service. We were doing familiar hymns...reading Scripture. At two minutes to ten [a.m.] the lights went out. We felt the bam-bam-bam of the south tower falling. We felt we were going to die. The [stained glass] windows were breaking. People got under the pews. [We were] forced to our knees." Meanwhile, he recalls, one of his closest co-workers remained at an office window in the building next door and "watched all those people jump, and after the building collapsed she fell on the floor...and [assumed] a fetal position."
That day, Hoke was involved in helping to save the lives of 80 of the 150 children who had arrived at the church's school. For weeks, months, and years thereafter, he used the wisdom gained from his own near-death experience to help him minister to those who came seeking solace, guidance, meaning. "I confronted my mortality, and it woke me up," he says. "My mortality was staring me in the face." Unable to continue on as before, he decided to leave his wife of 38 years. And he decided to dig in and dedicate himself to the faithful of St. Paul's and Trinity. "I'm here and I'm here for the long run. Fifty to sixty percent in our organization have departed since nine-eleven."
What's more, he says, "I've had a really virulent episode with cancer. We've had lots of [cases of] cancer, [possibly due to] the toxicity of the air, the benzine, the asbestos, the sheetrock and what have you. The stress of trying to run this ministry day and night -- I think it took its toll. I still tear up. I still jump at loud sounds. But I've had really good therapy and really good spiritual direction."
In one of his sermons, Hoke would remember: "Standing before that crowd of terrorized men and women [on September 11], I racked my brain for words and music that might provide us with some kind of assurance.... Something gutsy. Reassurance wouldn't cut it. Platitudes and piety were for naught at that point. We had no idea what was happening, or who was attacking, or why the sky was falling, or when the bell was going to toll for ourselves. All we knew is that we were engaged in some kind of monstrously destructive battle.
"I chose a number of prayers from the Book of Common Prayer. I used those hymns that seemed to speak to us in our plight -- hymns like "O God Our Help in Ages Past," whose first verse contains, of all words: "Our Shelter from the stormy blast." We sang "Rock of Ages," "My Faith Looks Up to Thee," "Onward Christian Soldiers." I almost committed a major musical faux pas when I announced that one hymn was to be "Nearer My God to Thee." When it dawned on me that such was the hymn that allegedly accompanied the last moments on the Titanic, I quickly changed it."
Most would agree that it wasn't a day for forgiveness or even-handedness in any way, shape or form. But Hoke preached peace from up on the altar. And his words, in that place, at that moment, showed a stunning suppleness of spirit and a deep well of love and humanity that is, even now, rather remarkable. "We were reading verses from the fifth chapter of Saint Matthew's Gospel," he recalls, "as we prepared ourselves to surrender the gift of our lives. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy,' but I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.' You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, 'Do not resist one who is evil. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.'"
September 1, 2006
THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING FLAG
Watching the World Change gives the definitive account of the story behind the famous Flag-Raising Photograph, shot by Thomas Franklin of the Bergen Record, which went on to become the most reproduced news photo of our time (appearing on 255 million U.S. postage stamps, thereby helping to raise $10 million for FEMA). This week, both Editor & Publisher and USA Today have picked up on the book's investigation into the mystery behind the flag itself, which has gone missing.