faith and doubt at ground zero

voices of september 11

The drama of faith and doubt began as soon as the first plane disappeared into the side of the North Tower. Here is the testimony of six people who suffered terrible losses on Sept. 11, and two who survived the destruction of the World Trade Center. Their voices serve as prologue to the questions and meditations that follow.

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Bernie Heeran
Retired New York City firefighter

I knew from being a fireman that my son could not have been in a worse possible position. All of the people above -- you could not have been in a worse spot than anybody in that fire. ... I asked [God] for help that day and he couldn't do it. You know, I was looking for more give-backs. I thought a couple more firemen would walk out of that building, but it just didn't work that way. But I continue to ask. My son's two brothers were there that day. I could have lost three sons. I could have lost more firemen that were there, that I knew, that I've talked to. And they made it. So they are the give-backs. ... I question, why not me, and leave my son? I mean, I would have switched. ... I asked Him in the beginning, "If you could give me this one, I would appreciate it." But He had nothing to do with this. There were a lot more people who could have been killed. He was fighting evil that day, like He does every day. ...

I realized that the first plane hit my daughter's building. And as I bent over to pick up the telephone, my daughter was on the other line. And she was telling me that she was scared, and that it was real smoky in there and they couldn't breathe. ... She didn't know what happened. So I told her that a plane had hit her building and for them to get out of there. And I could hear my daughter tell her coworkers that her mother told her a plane hit the building and they needed to get out. And then she asked me where was her baby. And I told her I had her baby and he was OK. She asked me just to take care of him, and I said, "OK, just get out of there." And I ran out my apartment and into the hallway and I was just screaming in the hallway. And all of a sudden my neighbors came out and they didn't know what had happened and I said, "My baby's gone." That night, when I went to bed, after I finally was able to lay down, there's a light that shines through my window and for some reason this light was real bright and I opened my eyes and I saw an angel. She was dressed in white and she had a smile on her face and I took that to believe that she was letting me know that my daughter was in heaven and that she was OK. I just pray every day that she didn't suffer. Maybe she just fell off to sleep and she didn't feel anything. I know she was scared, but I know my daughter also has faith in God, so I know she was praying. I never question why God didn't intervene. I often ask the question as to why He picked her, but I have come to the conclusion that I felt God knew something that I didn't know. Maybe He felt that she, even though she was here 23 years, that she was suffering a lot more than I knew about. And I felt that God knew best. I always felt that way when He takes someone -- that He knows better than we do.

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Kim Coleman
Retired New York City police officer

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Sharif Chowdhury
Insurance agent

They say the planes hit the building somewhere in the 92nd to the 101st floor. It's terrible to think that 2,000 gallons of petrol burned through the building, totally scorching my daughter to death. Our son-in-law, Nurul, worked on the 93rd floor. We were hoping that he might have just barely survived. I pray to Allah that if they survive, let them both survive. If they have to die, let them both go to Allah together. What was Allah's wish? My daughter and her husband both went to Allah together.

In their one year of marriage, I have never seen my daughter unhappy. Nurul took great care of her and made her so happy. We were very lucky to have found Nurul. But even after finding him, we still lost him. And I cannot protest to Allah or ask why He took my daughter. It is all His will. No matter what I do -- if I cry, if I scream, I can't bring her back, and so I have to accept that it is Allah's will.

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Showkatara Sharif Chowdhury

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Stanley Praimnath
Loan officer

It was the darkest day in my life. Loneliest day in my life. Most horrifying day in my life. When I looked out that window, towards the Statue of Liberty, and I saw that plane coming towards me, I was numb. This monstrous plane looking at me, like, "I'm taking you." Part of the 82nd floor collapsed. All of the walls were knocked flat. I was screaming! Crying! And praying out loud, "Lord! Help me! Please! Send somebody!" ... I felt like this strange force came over me. This power that I've never felt before. And I looked at this wall and I started to hit and punch and kick. And I busted a little hole. And Brian said, "I see your hand!"

And I heard this, "Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! ... Help! Help!" And I was able to grab onto something, whether it was his collar or we locked arms, I'm not sure, and then I lifted him out. And we fell on a heap on the floor, and we introduced ourselves. And he said, "Oh! Hallelujah! I'm Stanley!" And I said, "My name is Brian. We might be friends for life!" You know that sort of emotion overcame us. And then I said, "Come on, let's go. Let's get out of here."

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Brian Clark

Stanley Praimnath

So here I am, running, screaming, like everybody else. My Lord upheld this building. Then we were in perfect safety. The building collapsed. And here I am, got delivered, and I'm angry. Angry because all of these good people who were there, the firefighters, the cops, the EMS workers, all of these good people who were left in this building, which I am sure they were, that couldn't come down from the 81st or 82nd floor because of all of this debris. They perished. So I'm angry.

Just like He intervenes in everybody's life, God intervened in my life that day. I couldn't predict what He was going to do, I didn't feel like He was intervening at any particular second, it just unfolded and here I am. Clearly everybody had different experiences. My experience was to be able to meet Stanley in a special way and to get ourselves out of the building. Other people didn't have that same experience. Whatever God's plan is, was, and shall be -- is, was, and shall be. I can't question it.

Brian Clark

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Marian Fontana

It was Dec. 6, and I was in Hawaii with a lot of the firemen from my husband's house. And I felt his presence everywhere that day and everybody kept remarking how they felt Dave's presence at the beach. It was the first day I felt relaxed, that I could finally enjoy something, and it just felt good to breathe in the air and watch the firemen smile for the first time since the 11th. I got back to the hotel room and I guess that's when I really felt the stark reality of everything and I sat there by myself and watched the sunrise. And it was a startling beauty. I couldn't believe that this God that I'd talked to in my own way for 35 years could make the most beautiful place in the world and turn this loving man into bones. And I couldn't reconcile the difference between those two extremes. And I guess that's when I felt that my faith was so weakened by the 11th. And so I felt like God was just not present in me the way it had been. I guess all I feel at this point is the profound absence of Dave. And my conversations with God that I used to have, I don't have anymore. I just can't bring myself to talk. ... I used to talk quietly to myself or to God and say, "Thank you for Dave. Thank you for Aidan. Thank you for my life. God bless everyone. God bless the children." You know, "Please heal the sick." You know, the usual blessings. And now I can't bring myself to speak to Him anymore because I feel so abandoned. I guess deep down inside I know that He still exists and that I have to forgive and move on, but I'm not ready to do that yet.

We're a community in mourning; we were hit pretty bad. I knew close to 30 people who died at the World Trade [Center]. Basically, they were firemen, young stockbrokers, sons of friends I knew. I miss them dearly. I don't know if I'm ever going to get over a couple of them. I mean, we were really tight. We did a lot of things together. And I had to come down to the beach here to just let loose, and it was brutal. I let loose at God. I fired all of my barrels at Him. It might sound crazy, but I cursed Him. I damned Him. I think God could have just ended this all. That's why I feel strongly that I'm losing respect for Him. I know there's a trinity. I believe in the Son, but the Father I'm having a rough time dealing with. I'm really having a rough time. I don't have any love for God. For the weeks that followed September 11, it was really hatred. I can't accept this unless I can have an answer as to why it all occurred. ... When I come down here, and no question about it, I cry when I come down here, and I'll talk to my friends. I think my friends can hear me. God knows they are watching over all of us. I feel sometimes that they are helping me along with my life, trying to make me stronger. ... It was too barbaric the way the lives were taken. That wasn't mercy. So I look at Him now as a barbarian, and I probably will, and it's a sad situation. I think I am a good Christian, but I have a different view and image of Him now and I can't replace it with the old image. I can't replace it with the old image.

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Tim Lynston
Security guard


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