Editorial: The sycamore tree
● By Richard Gaw
The chapel survived the Great Fire of 1777, which was set by the British to punish New York City residents for their support of the rebels. While vast neighborhoods of the island succumbed to flames, St. Paul’s Chapel survived, because those who lived near it sacrificed their safety to form a brigade of water buckets around it that kept it from burning to the ground.
For more than 250 years, the tiny chapel served as a monument to the resiliency of our nation. After he was inaugurated as the first President of the United States, George Washington stopped there to pray for himself and the new country he had been asked to lead. Through the Civil War, World War I, the Stock Market Crash of 1929, the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War – the little church served as a quiet place of prayer and meditation.
In the hours, days and weeks after the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, the little church became a makeshift triage center, where rescue workers – covered in the layered soot of their mission -- went to rest; where doctors and therapists provided care; where volunteers came with food; and where cots were set up for people who found themselves in the lingering cauldron of despair, but could not bear to leave.
The only part of the little chapel that did not survive the attack was a giant sycamore tree that had stood for centuries in the northwest corner of the chapel’s graveyard. In the years since, many have said that were it the tree not there to absorb the punishing blow of steel and rubble, that St. Paul’s Chapel would not have survived.
This newspaper is not normally beholden to symbolism. Too often, comparisons that connect facts to emblems sound self-serving and trite, and in the space that this weekly editorial provides us – we normally avoid them. We are not living in normal times, however, so please permit us to tell the story about how the giant sycamore tree saved St. Paul’s Chapel because we believe that it dovetails with our responsibilities as citizens, and the sacrifices we may make in order to help those in our community during this most challenging time.
The missives sent down from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – stay home, wash our hands and cough into our elbows – may appear on the surface more to be acts of cordiality, but they are indeed necessary. And yet in the face of an epidemic, there is much more work we can do. The following ideas provide several recommendations that are a quick phone call or visit away.
Contribute to your local food bank. Due to the pandemic virus, the Food Cupboard at the Kennett Area Community Services Center is not accepting drop-off food donations, but is accepting online donations through its website, www.kacsonline.net.
The Chester County Food Bank is now accepting monetary donations. Make your check payable to Chester County Food Bank, 650 Pennsylvania Drive, Exton, PA 19341, or for more information, visit www.chestercountyfoodbank.org.
The West Chester Food Cupboard is now accepting donations in the form of checks, and gift cards for Giant or ShopRite that can be mailed to the West Chester Food Cupboard at 431 S. Bolmar St., West Chester, Pa 19382, or by an online donation at www.westchesterfoodcupboard.org.
Offer to help your neighbors, particularly at-risk individuals and seniors. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is targeting our elderly and those with serious conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease to be particularly susceptible to coronavirus. If you happen to be in a lower-risk category, make a call or two to those in your immediate neighborhood, just to see if they need any assistance. If your neighbor is elderly, offer to pick up a few items for her or him on your next trip to the grocery store, or your local pharmacy.
Purchase gift cards from small businesses, and take-out from your favorite restaurants. They are all a quick phone call or online visit away. You already know the owners by name, as well as their inventory and menus. Make sure to leave a substantial tip if you can.
You do not need 36 rolls of toilet paper. In an effort to stop the increase in hording of essential household goods, many stores have implemented purchase limits. When shopping, realize that you are not the only individual living through this crisis. Respect the needs of others by honoring those rules. If you have already purchase a month’s worth of provisions, you have enough.
Stay informed. The Chester County Health Department has become a go-to online source for those wanting to keep informed about the local impact of the coronavirus. Visit www.chesco.org/224/Health.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website -- www.health.pa.gov. – provides a day-by-day update of coronavirus information, including an excellent “Frequently-Asked Questions” that is certain to provide answers.
Perform one selfless act a day. You can send a card to someone, or a written letter, or an email or even a text. Use social media not a doomsday tool, but as a vehicle for light and positivity; post stories of resiliency, and link your friends to information they may find helpful.
During the holiday season of 2011, a spruce tree was planted where the sycamore tree once stood beside St. Paul’s Chapel. It was planted as a testament to what sacrifice can do. We are now living in the midst of a crisis, that latest of many that Americans have experienced, but for every one of these moments – a war for independence, a civil war, two world wars and several other military conflicts, a Great Depression, assassinations, epidemics, a severe recession and more weather-related catastrophes than we can count – there have been counter acts of quiet patriotism.
Throughout our history, the resilience and cooperation and selflessness of our citizens has been omnipotent. Together, much like that sycamore tree, our sacrifices will keep our nation from crumbling.