The Only Prayer You Have
By Bill Fairchild
Comments on Ed's 09/30/01 article "God Bless America" and the 10/07/01 article "God Bless America, Comments" about the 11 SEP disasters:
On Friday, December 3, 1999, a fire broke out in an old, abandoned, cold storage warehouse in Worcester, Massachusetts in which a homeless couple was known to live. The firefighters who rushed to the scene were told that there might be some people inside, so they went in to try to find the victims. Six firefighters died that night heroically trying to save the lives of two unknown strangers. Later it was discovered that the homeless couple had started the fire in the building in order to keep warm, then left the building and were not inside at all when the firefighters were trying to save them and dying in the process.
A few days later a memorial service was held to which thousands of living firefighters came from far away to mourn and praise their fallen comrades, and to comfort their grieving families and friends. Some came from Hawaii, Australia, and Ireland; President Clinton even attended. Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy gave a moving speech at the service in which he read a firefighters' poem as part of his effort to comfort those wives, children, parents, and other loved ones who were now mourning their tragic losses. A total of 17 children had become fatherless on the night of the fire as six brave men tried to save two homeless people who didn't even need saving.
Since this is so similar to one of the great tragedies of the World Trade Center where 300 firemen died, I want everyone to be able to see this poem and to think about one line in it very carefully.
"May They Not Be Forgotten"
Brother when you weep for me,
Remember that it was meant to be.
Lay me down and when you leave,
Remember I'll be at your sleeve.
In every dark and choking hall,
I'll be there as you slowly crawl.
On every roof in driving snow,
I'll hold your coat and you will know.
In cellars hot with searing heat,
At windows where a gate you meet,
In closets where young children hide,
You know I'll be there at your side.
The house from which I now respond Is overstaffed with heroes gone.
Men who answered one last bell did the job and did it well.
As firemen, we understand that death's a card dealt in our hand -
A card we hope we never play, But one we hold there anyway.
That card is something we ignore,
As we crawl across a weakened floor.
For we know that we're the only prayer For anyone that might be there.
So remember, as you wipe your tears,
The joy I knew throughout the years.
As I did the job I loved to do,
I pray that thought will see you through.
I'm sure the thousands who heard Ted Kennedy read this poem were nodding their heads in solemn agreement as they wept, thinking of the heroic and tragic loss of their friends. Every firefighter knows he is "THE ONLY PRAYER" for someone who is trapped inside a burning building. This thought sustains firefighters, who know they must try as hard as they can, even if it costs them their lives, because someone else needs them. They have perhaps been told there are little children hiding in a closet, trying to escape the heat and smoke, frightened and probably praying. They know that outside the building stand the fear-crazed parents of these little children, praying that their children will be spared, praying that God would let the firemen reach their children in time.
Why weren't these same parents praying just as fervently an hour before that the fire would not start? The same merciful, all-powerful, all-ignoring God who "allowed" the fire to start will just as easily "allow" the children to die a horrible death, and those who live will conclude that it was "God's will" that the innocent children be burned to death. It also must have been "God's will" that the building catch on fire, because otherwise the children could not have been burned up just then, and "God's will" would have been thwarted.
This poem says that firefighters know they are the only prayer of those caught inside a burning building. Are the trapped victims praying to the firefighters or are they praying to God? Since they probably don't even know that any firefighters are drawing near, let alone who they are, the victims are undoubtedly praying to God. Yet God "chooses" to answer these prayers by sending a firefighter to intervene and undo what might have been "God's will". What if the firefighter is not there at all? Or if he falls through the weakened floor before reaching the children inside the closet? Then their prayer failed to save them. If they succeed, then everyone gives credit to God; if they fail, it was "God's will."
Firemen probably assume that those trapped in a fire are religious believers and are praying. This thought also drives them on to go above and beyond the call of duty, to perform irrational acts to try to save someone else's life. Perhaps the firemen know there are trapped children, and that they must save the children so the children will have their prayers answered and thus still believe in God. This thought is sickeningly similar to not wanting our children to learn that there really isn't any Santa Claus, tooth fairy, or Great Pumpkin. Reality hurts. It is so much more comforting, comfortable, and easy to believe that there is "some great power out there somewhere" that will rescue us whenever we step in really deep shit and will magically make it all smell like a rose.
At the memorial service in Worcester and at any other memorial service, everyone wants to comfort each other by saying things like "It was God's will", "God will see you through", "Cast all your care upon God for He cares for you", "Trust in God", "God's ways are mysterious but it always works out", etc. The living victims and survivors are praying to God and asking to be comforted. Others who knew the dead are asking God in prayer to comfort the survivors. Everyone wants God to do it, but who actually does it? When you go to a memorial service, who is there comforting other people? People are. There is no God or angel crept in unawares doing any comforting. It is only, and it is always, human beings who comfort other human beings, just as it was the fireman who answered the prayer of those trapped in the fire. Those human beings who attend the memorial service are "THE ONLY PRAYER" of those praying for comfort.
If it weren't for firefighters, people trapped in burning buildings would have NO prayer, NO chance of surviving. If it weren't for friends (and often even strangers) helping us when we need help, we would have NO help at all.
One of the hidden "blessings" of the 11 SEP tragedy may be that a large number of Americans will wake up and see how helpless, hopeless, incompetent, bumbling, self-absorbed, and useless are our government leaders, our intelligence community, our Federal Aviation Administration, and our airport security measures. All of these function so as to create a false perception of safety in order to maximize either a politician's ability to be re-elected or someone's power or profit.
My skepticism and general cynicism about all things human received a pleasant surprise as I saw the people of New York City in particular and the people of the entire nation in general rally bravely to help those unfortunate victims in New York City. But not the government leaders. All we get from the FAA is more nauseating superficiality as they once again rushed to address the perception and, as always, REFUSED to address the reality of security for the air travel industry. Individual people at ground zero act as we hope they would heroically, unselfishly, tirelessly, while our bureaucrats continue to act irresponsibly.
The great lesson we all should learn from this tragedy and its aftermath is that we are our only prayer. We cannot trust the great God, whose "will" apparently is to let whatever happen that anyone wants to do. Nor can we trust our government to keep us secure or to comfort us, as the thousands of families have found out who are still waiting for some kind of financial assistance to filter down to them from the more than one billion dollars of donations sent in to help them.
One of the first sensible things that happened after 9-11 was that airplane pilots started demanding to be allowed to carry loaded guns with them as they entered their cockpits and lock their newly strengthened doors behind them. These pilots know that they themselves are their "only prayer." Ed has said the same thing in his article, namely that the only really useful thing in which we should trust is our own guns, and lots of them.
I am reading a book now titled "Dial 999 And Die: The Shocking Truth About the Police Protection Myth", by Richard W. Stevens. The point of this book is that no police force at the local or state level has any legally enforceable duty to protect any individual person, or even to respond at all to a 911 phone call. So citizens should arm themselves if they don't want to be assaulted, robbed, kidnapped, or murdered. The whole population has been numbed into believing the myth that our police are there to protect us. Whenever a gun atrocity occurs, whiners cry for two things: (1) "let's take away more guns from law-abiding citizens", and (2) "trust the police to protect you, and then you won't need a gun".
As our government and society act to continue to make it more and more difficult to own, keep, or use firearms, and as our people begin to learn the PAINFUL TRUTH that police are not required to protect them, what are we to do for self-defense? Pray to God? We could do that, just like the thousands of people who perished in the holocaust on 11 SEP. Or we could remember the line from the Firefighter's Poem that reminds us who our "only prayer" is. It is we ourselves. If we don't protect ourselves somehow, NO ONE else will. Not even the great all-loving, all-merciful, all-allowing God.
We can look to God to comfort us, but God is not going to comfort us any more than He protected us in the first place. We can protect ourselves and each other, and we can also comfort each other when needed. We are our only protection, our only comfort, and our only prayer.
And that is the ultimate and painful lesson to be learned from the terrorist attacks.
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