“There are friends who pretend to be friends, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24
So there we were, at a Brazilian Steakhouse in mid-town Manhattan, celebrating my birthday. Gathered around the table were Lisa, Niue, Rich and, his wife, Christine. I first met Rich inside what we called the Taj, the cavernous semi-hard, bubble-like structure FEMA constructed for workers to eat and find respite at Ground Zero. I was a chaplain, Rich was an investigator, and as I recollect, he was reading the Daily News as I sat down nearby with a cup of coffee. Over the next several months we would run into each other quite often, with Rich always excited to talk about his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Nine years have passed since then, and as we sat in the Rodizio, enjoying one of the best dinners imaginable, I noticed a flat package on the chair to my right. I thought it was something Rich and Christine had picked up earlier, but as things progressed, I was told I should open this package, because it was for me. No larger than 8 by 4 inches, but weighing 7 pounds, at first I thought it was a revolver. Always the detective, mysteriously and precisely perceiving my inner burgeoning delight, as I removed the outer packaging, Rich said, “It’s not a gun.”
Indeed, it was a cross, freshly carved by a torch from the substance of the last remaining structure damaged on 9/11. Countless times I had viewed the old Deutsche Bank Building, with the gash in front, covered by heavy industrial cloth and adorned by an enormous American flag. Never would I have imagined owning a piece of this history, and that such a raw, yet incredibly urbane possession could inspire deeply profound emotion.
As it happens, I do not own many religious symbols, I think mainly because they usually fail to capture and adequately express the spiritual reality inside my soul that God blesses me with every day. However, within milliseconds, this new addition to my worldly goods immediately gained the status of being most prized and valued.
Feeling its blackened, scarred and scalloped edge and probing its seared out hollow center makes me think of Ground Zero and many dark days of injury and mourning. Yet, as my eyes encounter the gleaming, meticulously burnished front, I am struck by the Light that darkness can never overcome. In my mind, the burly, broadly tattooed welder who fashioned this piece is a natural genius.
Holding this heavy object, I remember lingering bluish green smoke and debris, and those who chose to rush headlong into harm’s way. Still, just as vividly, this Cross calls to mind images of Rich and Christine — good friends we improbably gained, in a season when so many relationships were severed and stolen.
Easily, my gift is one of the most beautiful crosses I’ve ever seen. It will always stand as an enduring testament that truly solid things can emerge out of terrible brokenness and tragedy. Disasters and devastation will occur, but out of the cauldron of crisis, enduring faith and steadfast friendships will emerge.
They will be stronger than steel, and permanent in the Kingdom of God.