On the evening of September 11, 2001, I listened to the death toll from the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and from the plane crash in the fields of Pennsylvania. I knew too well what the sudden death of one loved family member does to the rest of that person’s one family and thought that the grief of 2,977 families in shock about the deaths of their loved ones would crush us all. I was sure that we, as a society, could not survive so much grief.
Grief doesn’t ever go away, but Manal Ezzat, a Muslim woman and engineer with the U.S. Army who was present at the attack on the Pentagon, took her grief and used it to connect with others in need. She was the project manager for the Army’s space in the Pentagon at the time of the attack. After the attack, she was in charge of redesigning the area where the attack had occurred. She knew immediately that the area should not return to its prior use and decided to build a chapel in the place of the former offices. Recently with the approach of the 18th anniversary of that awful day, Ezzat said that she still can’t fully understand that tragedy and also can never forget it. About the chapel, she said, ” We just wanted to make it a peaceful place that could help wipe away the tragedy.”
(Note: You can meet Manal Ezzat through a brief video, found at the end of the above linked article.)
Rebuilding the Pentagon and creating the chapel as a peaceful sanctuary was an act of love. The construction team was given three years to complete the task and completed it in less than one year. The team members worked 24/7 and donated all of their overtime pay, about $3 million, to pay for the chapel furnishings and artwork and to support victims’ families.
Today, the chapel is used for daily Catholic Masses, Protestant services, Jewish study sessions, Buddhist prayers, Greek Orthodox services, Hindu services, and Muslim daily prayers. Ezzat commented that building a religious haven out of a wreckage was “part of the healing process.”
Manal Ezzat’s drive to do good can be a sign of hope for us with our current losses. We are now witnessing on the national scene a wreckage of our long-held national values of personal decency, truth-telling, and kindness to those who are suffering.
What can we do about that loss? First, we can look squarely at what we are losing as a nation and see the loss for what it is. Secondly, we can deeply acknowledge to ourselves and others that there is no goodness or saving grace in losing who or what is precious to us. Thirdly, we can help one another to heal from our shared trauma. We can, as Manal Ezzat shows us, build something new.