September 11, 2012
Mass for Rescue 2
On Sunday afternoon, I made my second visit to the 9-11 Memorial because I recently became aware of what is known as the “Survivor Tree,” and I wanted to see it myself.
The Survivor Tree is a pear tree that was planted around the time of the original construction of the World Trade Center towers. It survived some 30 years in that spot, in the harsh environment of downtown Manhattan and our Northeastern U.S. weather. It survived the attacks of eleven years ago and was found one month later, still alive under the rubble. It was taken to Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx to recover; there it survived a windstorm that uprooted it. Soon after it was replanted at its spot on the grounds of the 9-11 Memorial, it survived Hurricane Irene. Today it stands, in full bloom, over thirty feet tall. Its first eight feet are covered in thick aged, gnarled, dark bark. The rest of its 22 feet is covered in lighter, younger bark, with gentle branches that bloom pear blossoms in the Spring and rich green leaves in the summer. The first eight feet is the tree as it was on the day of the attacks the 22 feet and counting above is the new life of the last eleven years.
That tree in the memorial park, almost directly across from the names of Rescue 2 at the South Tower pool is to me a profound symbol of you. Like the tree which on that day was already made strong by years in downtown Manhattan, you too were already strong people. You were strong because you already knew the risks and dangers of a firefighter’s life. Like the tree, you too were buried in the rubble of horror, fear, anger and inconsolable mourning. And like the survivor tree, over these years you discovered yourself still alive and have sought and found healing, growth and new life. You too have survived storms that have threatened your healing. There have been ups and downs in your healing process, but you stand here today bearing eleven years of new life. Like the Survivor Tree, your dark, gnarled and burnt trunk will never go away, but like the tree - most of you is new life.
You are not like the tree you are the tree. United together bearing the branches of new life, your solid trunk is your faith, your care for one another and the undying love of the heroes we honor today. Your love for them, their love for you and your love for each other, continues to nourish this survivor tree that you are. Yesterday a friend that I have come to know over the last few years posted an old picture of the lobby of one of the towers. Thinking he had worked there, I asked if he was a survivor. He replied that he did not, but that we are all survivors. The true survivor tree is very large. There are hundreds of thousands of branches that have sprouted from that damaged trunk. There is life today, eleven years later, beyond our imagination.
For eleven years now we have come together to remember what we could not possibly forget. We remember that the souls of these just are in the hands of the Lord. We remember that nothing can separate us from the love of God or those we have loved. We remember to love one another as Christ has commanded, as our brothers did in laying down their lives for friend and stranger. For eleven years you have remained in Christ’s love and you remained in love with these men. You have loved and been loved through your support and care for each other.
The tree was a Survivor Tree the day it was found eleven years ago. Today it is more than a survivor; it is a tree of new life. You too are more than survivors, despite a terror beyond imagination you are people of new life. Your families have lived and continue to be bearers of new life.You have grown and are bigger and more powerful then the forces that brought this terror and sadness into our lives.
We still mourn today because, on that day, our brothers were not among the survivors. Our confident prayer today, however, is that though they were not survivors, they are in fact among the living, rewarded for their goodness. May the new life that we see in a tree and in you, be an ever present reminder of the new and eternal life that the Lord prepared for these just men and that which awaits all of us.