A Pilgrim’s View
James M. Kushiner on September 11 from Another Country
It was a strange experience to be away from America during the September 11 attacks. My wife told me several days later that I would be returning to a country different from the one that I had left for a pilgrimage of Orthodox Christians to the island of Iona in Scotland, on September 6.
When the news spread among us that America had been attacked, someone had to find a radio (we had no television). Slowly people returning from walking and praying around the island gathered in the common room to listen to BBC radio on the afternoon of September 11 (we were five hours ahead of New York). We listened in shocked silence. I could only think of the poor victims.
The only other American in our group of 30 was a Greek-American woman from New York City, whose family was spared. Among us there were Orthodox Christians from various ethnic backgrounds: Greek, Tibetan, Bulgarian, Flemish, Georgian, Cypriot, Irish, English, Welsh, and Scottish.
That evening, after a somber supper, we went to the chapel to pray the Orthodox service in remembrance of the dead, including all departed members of our families we wished to remember. Some wept.
The next day we ended our six-hour pilgrimage walk to various places on the island in St. Oran’s Chapel, the oldest intact building on the island (built about 1150). It stands in the middle of Reilig Oran—the graveyard of Oran, the sacred burial ground of the early kings of Scotland. There are also many recent graves around the chapel.
Afterwards I found several members of our group in the common room, soberly reading newspapers spread out on the floor and tables. The Times had many full-page color photos of the attack on America, which brought home to me the violence and scale of the attack. That evening we held another service of remembrance for the dead.
On Friday, after celebrating the Divine Liturgy for the Feast of the Holy Cross, we walked along the narrow road fronting most of the village’s houses down to the quay to catch the 9:00 a.m. ferry for the Island of Mull. Then, after an hour’s bus ride through some of the most stunning scenery imaginable, we caught another ferry to the mainland. At 11:00 a.m., the several hundred ferry passengers fell silent for three minutes in respect for the victims of September 11, silence that ended with the BBC broadcast of a tolling bell.
When we landed in Oban on the mainland, I lunched with a cousin and then took a train to Dumbarton, my mother’s birthplace. It’s a town originally founded on twin volcanic plugs that rise fortress-like at the confluence of the Clyde and the Leven. The next morning, I visited Dumbarton Castle, which is situated on both peaks. Indeed, they look impregnable.
Halfway up one of the walks, I stopped and stared for a long time at an artist’s rendering of these twin fortresses in 870, set ablaze and sacked after succumbing to a vicious siege by Vikings from Dublin. This fortress near the river and the sea was then known as Dun Breatann, “Fortress of the Britons.” I couldn’t help but think of the strong twin towers of the World Trade Center standing above the Hudson and the sea, symbols of economic power.
James M. Kushiner is the Director of Publications for The Fellowship of St. James and the former Executive Editor of Touchstone.
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