The Story of Seth Castleman, a Chaplain Helping the Families of Victims at the World Trade Center-Truth! 



Summary of eRumor:  
This is an email said to be from a man named Seth Castleman.  He’s not one of the survivors of the attacks in New York, but one of those who has been working with the survivors and families who lost loved ones or colleagues.

The Truth:

We have communicated with Mr. Castleman and confirmed that this is his account.  There is a technical problem with the story.  It seems to refer to “Monday” as the day of the attacks and use that as an index for referring to other days as well.  The attacks, of course, were on Tuesday.  Also, he makes reference to the man who held on to the side of the building and came down with it, surviving.  This is the “surfer” story of the man who rode a piece of debris to the ground, which has not been proven.  It was a story told among the rescuers.

A real example of the eRumor as it has appeared on the Internet:

<< Subj: news from the rubble Date: Friday, September 14, 2001 2:46:43 PM From: c (Seth Castleman)

Dear friends and family,

The first moment to write and the hands not yet steady on the keyboard.

Firstly, I hope I have not added to anyone’s worry, by not checking in sooner. I am alive and physically unhurt. I was ironing a shirt to leave for an errand at Park Place when I got the call about the disaster Monday morning. Park Place, I have been told, was crushed by part of the falling buildings. Since mid-day Monday I have been mostly at the sight helping with relief efforts.

The world is a whirl of love and sorrow.

What follows my be well short of organized and only bordering on coherent, but considering the state of things, perhaps it is appropriate. I wanted to share some experiences, to help let them go, and to bring more people together in the communal suffering and supporting.

First: The despair and frustration and sorrow and fear that we are all feeling. The helplessness. We all wish we could just get our hands on something to do. I do not know how you can help, other than to pray and bear witness. You have likely seen news more than I have over these days, so I cannot tell people how to offer support. I do not know if this is still the case, as I have been home for the last 12 hours getting some sleep, but for the 2 days prior we were having to turn away many volunteers. So much good will and so little that we can do.

The volunteer effort of thousands, while very disorganized and right and left often unaware of the other, is in very good spirits with great depths of kindness and strength. I have fallen in love and made dozens of dear friends, as the best in people shines through in such times.

I have spent most of these days at Chelsea Piers, coordinating the crisis unit for families looking for loved ones, and then at ground zero amidst rubble and dust and shocked sullen faces doing chaplaincy and crisis counseling and coordinating counseling for the rescue workers.

People come in to the Chelsea Pier unit after visiting every hospital in the city, desperate for some news. The volunteer counselors and chaplains fill out missing persons reports, sit with them, look at photos together, weep, laugh, sit in silence. We give out hospital phone numbers, let them see lists of the confirmed safe, enter all the data and scan photos for a FEMA database of missing persons. We hold hands and counsel and encourage people perhaps to go home and be together with loved ones, as there is little else to do. The waiting and not knowing is the most difficult part, not sure whether to hope or mourn, the families feel helpless and overwhelmed with fear.

At ground zero there is equal helplessness. We are counseling firefighters, EMTs, iron workers, and police as they come out of the rubble. For the families it is horrible not to know, for these guys it is horrible to know.

I talked with no one who had found a body. Only parts. Masses of pieces. Collecting fingers by the hundreds, finger printing them and throwing them into bags, sorting by size. Pediatrics here, adults here… An army man in post traumatic stress, weeping about scooping up guts, about reaching into crevasses to grasp a hand, only a hand.

How devastating to return to the family crisis unit after spending all night hearing these stories from the men in the rubble.

And God, as if to say, Do not take this to mean that The Presence is not here, appeared in moments and miracles. A man on the 82 floor. The plane hit that floor and the enormous blast shot him out the window. Somehow he clung to the ledge outside and when the building came down he went down with it, sliding miraculously down the outside. He broke both his legs, yet lived to tell his story.

A firefighter from upstate I sat with for an hour next to the rubble. He found a body of a young Asian man, flattened to just a few inches. The form was covered in another inch or two of dust. (there are no cement blocks to move, as all the cement and sheet rock crumbled to a fine and asbestos filled dust which covers the ground and fills the air.) The body was almost invisible under the dust, yet in the beam of his light something shown. The left hand was grey like everything else, but on one finger was a gold wedding band, uncovered and shining clean, a golden line in a sea of deathly grey. We mused together whether another worker had been there first and cleaned it off ‹ and if so why he hadn’t collected the body ‹ or if an angel had passed by.

Shannon, a small retriever dog, sniffed and saved five people at the Pentagon, then came here to find another four. At least ten dogs have been killed in the wreckage. They dig when they smell human, lie down when they smell dead body. Almost no barks, and lying down is easier and easier as the smell turns to stench.

My tag says chaplain, so people come up to talk, pray, breath, or just be silent together. I am struck how much The Presence (as God is sometimes called) can so be found in the presence held between two people.

In the notebook I am using for volunteer names and numbers and random details, I came across a note to myself that I wrote on Sunday night before the disaster. In the holocaust no one was there to bear witness. People either oppressed or were oppressed, helped or turned their eyes away. What would happen if people opened their hearts and truly watched in Jerusalem.

Can we deeply accept tragedy with an open heart, then move to heal and help from the seat of witness. The atoms that change when watched, becomes the world that has been transformed.

At ground zero, amidst all the togetherness and kindness and effort, still thoughts and talk of those who planned this disaster.

It is strange. I can only imagine the motives of those who committed these acts. Undoubtedly they were frustrated, hurt. Undoubtedly they felt politically, economically, culturally, and individually helpless, frustrated, afraid, and angry. These feelings are universal, the world filled with sorrow. The rescue workers, the families, the world, all feeling helpless, afraid, frustrated, and angry with this disaster. What motivates the killer so too inspires the healers, the actions so profoundly different, the initial spark perhaps the same.

I don’t know if I am making this clear, but it feels so important. Will the heart open or close? Will we take our sadness and let it harden or let it melt? Do we allow it to turn to hatred or to love?  They say the heart cannot fully love until it is broken; only the shattered vessel can hold water.  So too only a broken heart can harden into hatred. Only shattered shards become boxcutters and knives. How easily these feelings can turn. Food that one day can nourish us and save our lives, turns rancid and will kill. Love and hatred, good and evil, they seem so far apart, but no further than water is from ice, and ice from turning back to water.

The Atrium, filled with palm trees in the Amex Building at the World Trade Center. Where chamber orchestras once played now is eerily silent. The banners are faded of their writing, ripped and dangling like sails of a pirate ship found on a deserted island. Tangled steel cuts the view of sky through shattered portals. And through the dust and smoke and sounds of slogging feet through water, comes the yellow slice of moon. Only she, it seems is consistent.  Later, just before dawn she has ascended above the cloud.

So much devastation, the earth and the psyche marred with death‹

And still a beautiful new moon,

Rising white and Untouched above our sorrow.

Thank you for letting me share some of my thoughts and feelings. Feel free to pass them along. My phone is only sometimes working. I have a handful of other cell phones and walky talkies, but best not to call.  In an emergency, land line at home is: [number deleted]

Much love,

Seth Castleman