Dorothy Day, the San Francisco Earthquake and the Aftermath of 9/11

The major earthquake that shook San Francisco on April 18, 1906, was also felt in nearby Oakland where eight-year-old Dorothy Day had recently moved with her parents and siblings. When the ground finally stopped shaking, a frightened Day emerged from her home to see examples of both chaos and community: buildings swayed, small fires burned, and adults calmed down scared children.

In her autobiography “The Long Loneliness,” Day—who would go on to found The Catholic Worker movement—admits she felt comforted by the sight of people helping one another. She wrote, “While the crisis lasted, people loved each other. It was as though they were united in Christian solidarity. It makes one think of how people could, if they would, care for each other in times of stress, unjudgingly in pity and love.”

That story comes to mind on this anniversary of 9/11 because it reflects the exact same solidarity that was on display in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. With the streets as crowded as the subway at rush hour, I walked through midtown Manhattan with my co-workers toward the 59th Street Bridge. With all those people in such a small space – plus the added fear and anxiety about what had just happened – you might think there would be pushing and shoving and arguing.

But no. Everybody was in it together, or as Day said, “People loved each other. It was as though they were united in Christian solidarity.”

I thought the feeling would last. And it did for a while. People were more pleasant, drivers refrained from horn honking, church pews were fuller. But human nature being what it is, we eventually returned to normal – at least those of us who didn’t lose any loved ones. For the families and friends who did, normal is a thing of the past.

So on this anniversary of a murderous day, take time out to remember those who died – the victims and the heroes and those affected by 9/11 related illnesses – and those who still grieve for them. In their memory, make it a point to be “united in Christian solidarity” for at least one day. And if one day turns into more, so much the better.

Pope Benedict XI–Prayer at Ground Zero
New York, 20 April 2008

O God of love, compassion, and healing,
look on us, people of many different faiths
and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.
We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and
Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives
with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.
God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.

Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

RELATED:
- 9/11 Stories: A Look Back

- One Legacy of Father Mychal Judge

About Tony Rossi

After graduating from St. John's University in New York with degrees in Communications and English, Tony Rossi found a job at the Catholic media organization, The Christophers, that allowed him to indulge his interest in religion, media, and pop culture. He served as The Christophers' TV producer for 11 years, and is currently the host and producer of the organization's radio show/podcast Christopher Closeup, writer and editor of their syndicated Light One Candle column, and producer/scriptwriter of the annual Christopher Awards ceremony.


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