I don’t know if you remember where you were or what you were doing when you first heard the news about the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. I was cleaning the hall at St William’s Church, Road Town, British Virgin Islands, when an American woman came rushing in exclaiming that a plane had crashed into the building. I said some polite words and thought—no doubt a typical overreaction, and probably a little Cessna had accidentally flown off course and run into the skyscraper.
Eventually I drove up to the presbytery and, by chance, happened to turn on the TV where I watched the full horror unfold. New York is in the same time zone as us in the West Indies so this was midmorning, September 11th, 2001, I was watching it in real time.
I am reminded of this because only recently I happened to watch Voices from the Tower, a documentary about the deluge of telephone calls that flooded from the North Tower into the outside world after the first aircraft, American Airlines flight 1, crashed into it at 8:46am. It is a gripping, gut wrenching documentary that you can still see on YouTube.
The documentary tells the compelling story of the frantic phone calls made by those trapped in the World Trade Centre and slowly realising that their life was probably very finite. For the many young workers who woke up that morning full of hope and optimism, their pending fate was both unexpected and unplanned.
In the 102 minutes they had to live, they made telephone calls to those who were ultimately important – wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, children and siblings. The documentary revolves around the many messages left on answering machines. At times the words are unbearable and they testify to the terror of the day and yet in calm, and surprisingly very succinct ways, they say their goodbyes to those they love the most. For the recipients of those messages, the words and more importantly, the voice, are their most cherished possessions.
However it is the simple words of a wife at the beginning of the documentary that puts it all in context for me. These recordings are treasured because, she laments, “the memory of a voice of a loved one is the first to disappear”.
The fear of forgetting, remembering, recognizing a voice is something I had never considered and is very appropriate on this weekend as we look forward to celebrating on Friday the Feast of All Souls. Whose voice do you remember today? What person are you afraid of forgetting? Do you recognize the reassuring presence of God as you pray for and remember those whom you have known, loved and shared the journey with?
With every blessing for the week ahead.
Fr Peter Brannelly