IN THE SHADOW OF THE WTC
'I just dropped down on the sidewalk and started praying.'
Chris Meyer, an actor, stepped out of the World Trade Center subway station moments after the second tower had been hit by a hijacked jetliner. He'd just finished working a graveyard shift, proofreading legal documents in Upper Manhattan. He was on his way to jury duty at a courthouse three blocks north of the Center.
The next day, Chris spoke with the Sentinel about what he'd witnessed that morning and how he'd responded.
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The street was packed with people. Somebody said, "A plane ran into the World Trade Center." But at that point, nobody really grasped what that meant.
I was coming off a night when I hadn't slept. In fact, I hadn't slept in a couple of days because I'd been working nonstop. So, I wasn't in a great mental state. Nevertheless, a little voice in the back of my head said, "Maybe you should start praying about this." But the overwhelming feeling I had was, "Oh, I'll just stand here and watch." I'm certainly not proud of that, but the scene was pretty surreal, like a movie with special effects.
What changed that for me was the moment we saw someone jump from high up in the building. All of a sudden I realized this wasn't just about a building—there were people in there! I almost got sick. I just dropped down on the sidewalk and started praying. Automatically, I went to the Lord's Prayer (see Matt. 6:9-13). I knew from experience that it's an immediate help in whatever situation we find ourselves, so I just started going through it line by line, trying to bring myself to a realization that God is good.
A couple of minutes later, the police started screaming at us to move, and all of sudden, it turned into a stampede up West Broadway. It was almost a riot scene. After a couple of blocks, we stopped, a little north of the towers.
The word sensationalism kept going through my head. The buildings were like magnets; I couldn't take my eyes off them. Then, I remembered an experience I'd read about when Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer of Christian Science, healed a child who had died.1 I remembered something about her turning away from the child's body and taking leave of her material senses in order to focus entirely on spiritual reality. She did that with so much clarity that the child came back to life. Not only that, but this child, who had never walked, was healed of this problem at the same time.
Part of me thought, "Maybe I should just walk away. Since I can't tear my eyes off the buildings, maybe I should just leave so that I can pray better." But another part of me thought, "Boy, if I was up in those buildings, I would want someone staying right here praying. I wouldn't want the person walking away." So, I said to myself, "OK, I'm going to look at this thing and pray it down."
I realized that, in every situation, each of us has a choice. We can recognize that God is good and that God is everywhere, or we can deny that. Our choice doesn't change the facts, of course—God is good, and He is always here. But it's up to us whether or not we want to see that.
I thought, "If I were up in those buildings, I would want someone staying right here praying."
No two ways about it, I felt like a dismal failure a lot of the time I was standing there. It was hard. I'd be saying the Lord's Prayer, and I'd get to "Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven," and then I'd see someone jump. It just makes you gulp and pound the ground. But I was determined to hold on to the spiritual fact that in God's universe—which is reality—only good was going on.
When we all started to realize that this was a terrorist attack, I immediately went to the part in the Lord's Prayer about forgiveness:
"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." I thought, "There's got to be immediate forgiveness, not because we're nice people, not because we're waving a white flag saying, 'Oh, we'll forgive you if nothing like this will ever happen again.' Rather, we have to forgive because if we don't, we'll be saying that somebody is more powerful than God, that some terrorist has the power to mess up God's plan for us; then we should bow down and pray to the terrorists because they're more powerful than God."
I had to work really hard to forgive when the buildings came down. I heard people around me say things like "mass deportations" and "Let's kill the so-and-so." But I knew that rising above this experience and recognizing that God is good was an all-or-nothing proposition: God is good for everyone.
I kept repeating the first line of the Lord's Prayer: "Our Father which art in heaven" (emphasis added). It doesn't say, "Good people's Father" or "Victims' Father." It says "Our Father." God is everyone's Father. For me, in order to heal this kind of situation and make sure nothing like it ever happens again, the prerequisite is that we believe God is Father to everyone, even to those who don't see Him that way. At some level, it doesn't matter what they see, because they're not more powerful than God.
It was so clear to me that if we want to see divine good, we have to demand of ourselves that we see it in every circumstance. It's not easy, but it's simple.
During this time, I didn't have much interaction with the crowd. I was just trying mentally to stay with the people up in those buildings. I began to notice that they never jumped together. They would jump one at a time, and usually with several minutes in between. I got such an overwhelming feeling of the desperation and terror and, finally, hopelessness they must have felt that I was determined to do all I could to recognize our Father-Mother God up there with them, because that's what I would want if I were up there. I would want to feel that there was a divine presence there with me, comforting me and protecting me.
Jesus' healings, his triumph over death, and all that Christian Science teaches, shows us that we can walk without fear of anything. Still, knowing that the people up there were facing incredible fear just made me absolutely ragingly angry. A part of me really lashed out against the fear. Sometimes, about the only thing I could hold on to was that mentally I wasn't going to leave those people alone. I was going to do everything I could to keep them from being engulfed in that fear.
I also thought about an article that was in the July 2, 2001, issue of this magazine. It was about a man who died while having his appendix taken out. He was dead for eight minutes and then came back to life. I remembered him saying that, during that time, he was looking down at his sick body, but that he was actually in another body that didn't have appendicitis. In other words, his perfectly healthy self was looking down at this picture of a not-perfect self.
For a second, I kind of put myself in the heads of the people I saw jumping and the ones still up there. As these people seemed to pass away and lose their lives, I thought about what they would be seeing if their experience was like this man's. They would be looking at themselves lying on the concrete and would realize that they weren't in that crumpled body. Instead, they were perfectly fine, looking down at a body that seemed to be dead. With this awareness, they would actually have a clearer view of the situation than we did. That helped a little bit because it made me realize that the people who'd passed on were still going on with their lives.
The tendency is to want revenge... either I keep fighting inside the nightmare, or I wake up from it and side with God.
I just kept clinging to what the people must have learned. They must see another level of life that they probably didn't know about before, and they must realize that their life hasn't stopped. That their "death" didn't stop God's plan for them.
After the second building fell, I joined some construction workers who were running toward the scene to help, but the police stopped us, saying they weren't sure about the security of the nearby buildings. Sometime after that, maybe around 11:30, I finally turned away and started walking home.
Throughout the city, people were gathered around cars, listening to the radio. At one point, I stopped and heard about the scope of the attacks, about the Pentagon and all. But mostly, I just walked along, thinking, "This is my chance to heal." Neighborhood after neighborhood for nearly half of the length of Manhattan, I tried to view everyone I saw, not as deprived, but as complete and whole. Not with lives that had been interrupted, no matter how much even they might believe that an evil circumstance had changed everything. God never meant for us to take a hiatus from His goodness. As I walked, I made it my mission, as much as I possibly could, to see everyone this way. To see the whole city this way.
When I finally got home, I settled down a bit and watched some news, but after a while, I was hit with an intense wave of fatigue, and I just slept. Now, the day after, I still need to pray constantly, especially as reports come out about who might have been responsible. The tendency is to want revenge, so that's giving me plenty to pray about.
Also, throughout the city, everybody has that thousand-yard stare. You just know where everyone's thoughts are. The slightest innuendo from someone can set you off feeling either sad or angry. So, I'm still just trying very hard to see that God is good and that nothing can change that.
Of course, there's a lot to be worked out. I don't mean to sound naive or callous, but I'm determined to cling to the fact that good has to be going on because God is here. Either I know that's true, or I give up hope. Either I keep fighting inside the nightmare, or I wake up from it and side with God.
1 See Clifford P. Smith, Historical Sketches (Boston: The Christian Science Publishing Society, 1969), pp. 79-80.