The Sacrament of Gratitude

A woman caught in the swirl of WTC smoke and debris finds gratitude for life's everyday pleasures.

This article was originally published on Beliefnet in 2001.

When an angel in a business suit grabbed my hand and ran me through the smoke and ash overtaking Wall Street, I was scared for my life. Now I'm scared for the world.

It's far simpler to be scared for one's self. When I was terrified, I breathed deeply, desperately drawing air through the makeshift mask I wore all the way home to Brooklyn. Now I often find myself holding my breath, almost unconsciously. Then I catch myself and breathe. That breath is nothing short of sacramental.

The morning after the air attacks on the World Trade Center, I awoke to the shock of being spared. Not wanting to be alone, I had slept over at a friend's apartment (This friend himself been evacuated from an office building near the twin towers.). Around noontime, he crossed his living room, stood in front of the blaring television, and said, "We have to get out of here." I was reluctant to venture outside; I didn't want to sacrifice my fragile sense of safety. But the horrors of the ongoing news broadcast drove me to join him in Prospect Park, where the two of us sat stunned on a bench instead of stunned on the couch.

If it weren't for the acrid smell of debris still burning in lower Manhattan, the scene might have been indistinguishable from a sunny school holiday, children tumbling over themselves, the parents collegial while they watched. A couple joined us on our small bench. As she dropped her bag beside us, the woman told the man, "I just need to know that things still are somehow okay."

Given the scope of the New York tragedy, I feel some shame at my continued--even growing-- thrill at being alive.


One tender mercy of the atrocious air attacks on the city is just how many managed to escape downtown alive. When I called my brother from Wall Street, I reported, "It looks like Armageddon." I almost thought it was. Rationally, while the attacks were ghastly, I now realize that they did not signal the end of civilization. Yet, to a degree I never was before, I find myself afraid of any conflict that might occasion further destruction. I know that other New Yorkers share in my fear. Recently, I called my brother to say, "I don't want the world to end."

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Kelly Murphy Mason
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