Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New York to China in Santa Fe

May God always be with those who suffered. God bless the USA.

These were the words Larry Slavin of Aztec, Arizona wrote on a piece of paper at the FINA gas station at the edge of Farmington, New Mexico. These are the words, this is the sentiment echoed by the salt-of-the-earth people we’ve met at every turn.

As Mr. Slavin was slipping his message into the side of the cross Chris Cliff came up to speak with us. ‘I was on my way into town when you guys passed me. I had to turn around and talk to you guys.’ Chris was involved with an organization called 9:9 Ministries, a group that puts on productions of Christ’s Passion in various countries around the world; before Jon had finished explaining what his project was all about Chris was on the phone with his colleagues telling them ‘You gotta see this!’
 Up the road outside their one-trailer world headquarter office Rena Peña simply stared as she listened. ‘Oh my gosh…’ She held her hand over her mouth, visibly emotional, wiping her eyes. ‘That people can put their prayers in there…’ And tears began rolling down her cheeks. ‘This is going to mean so much to so many people.’

The road today led us across some beautiful high country desert. Rain pelted our windshield as we rolled into Dolce, the snow-covered peaks of the San Juan Mountains still visible to the east. We had hoped to make a detour through Taos before heading to Santa Fe, but by the time we stopped for lunch at the High Country Restaurant & Saloon in Chama (altitude 7860 feet) we had decided we would have to skip that extra slice of this beautiful state. As we rolled on southward the rain turned to snow.

Battalion Commander Dave Trujillo met us as we pulled up to Santa Fe Fire Department’s Station #1. I had spoken with him over the phone on two separate occasions, to explain what we were doing and to set up a time to stop by, so he had somewhat of a clue why there were two trucks in his lot, one of them with a huge piece of metal tied to the back. The other men and women in the department, on the other hand, were totally clueless.

Captain Gerard Sena summed up the mood around the fire house after September 11th. ‘There was a definite sense of loss in the following days. Across the nation you have brothers out there going to work, kissing the wife and kids good-bye and hoping for the best.’ Most of the firefighters we met at Station #1 weren’t part of the department ten years ago, but you could tell they feel that attachment to those who were lost that day.

Captain Naranjo and Engine 1 led the way to Santa Fe Plaza; Rescue 3 followed behind. More police cars and security personnel were at the square – although for the filming of a movie with Willem DeFoe and 50-Cent (so we were told, without any indication why a half-dollar would need such protection). After the firemen carried and raised the cross and Jon talked for a bit about the project one of the women in the crowd interjected. ‘These guys do a great job for us,’ she said, pointing toward the semi-circle of men (and one woman) behind Jon. ‘It is so wonderful you are involving them in this.’

Bob and Dana Bigler were in town from Long Island. “How eerie it was in the days after,’ Mr. Bigler said. ‘Every time a plane flew overhead, heading for LaGuardia or JFK, everyone went silent.’ Katrina Liu was singing karaoke with her friends in Hunan, China when she saw on the TV in the main room what was happening. ‘I was shocked; I don’t even remember what I told my friends.’ Shirley Peal from Lake Oswego, Oregon could only shake her head and stare. ‘It’s so wonderful…I’m speechless...’

People wrote notes and offered hugs and handshakes. Rob Salvatore, a retired Boston police officer, took his own badge out of his wallet and placed it inside the cross. Several good folks handed Jon money – ‘for the trip, for gas,’ they said.

After the sun went down we checked the weather. Storms were pounding parts of Texas and were forecast to hit areas of Tennessee, Missouri and Oklahoma. We decided to stay the night in Santa Fe and decide in the morning whether to push on toward our next stop, Oklahoma City.