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They were dressed in business suits, jeans, shorts and T-shirts. They wore sandals and high heels, loafers and running shoes. Some had on raincoats and others no jackets at all. Many clutched umbrellas. Some put a steadying hand on the shoulder of a friend. A few wiped away tears or sobbed quietly.
They were older, middle-aged, young. Dark, pale and most shades in between. A woman held the hand of a toddler. As they stepped away, the light grew brighter as the marble surface of the MIT Chapel was covered with dozens of tiny flickering flames.
Members of the MIT community gathered to pray Friday at an interfaith service in the aftermath of Tuesday's terrorist attacks. The service, scheduled when President Bush declared the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, attracted a mid-day crowd of students, administrators, staff and faculty that filled the chapel just past noon and overflowed into Kresge Auditorium.
"We are a community," said The Rev. Paul Reynolds, MIT's Catholic chaplain. "We come from many different faiths and many different backgrounds and we will disperse to many different places, but on this day of all days as our nation gathers to think of things we have in common, let us place our hopes and fears collectively on the table."
In addition to Father Reynolds, the prayer service was led by John Wuestneck, Protestant chaplain; Miriam Rosenblum, director of Hillel; Amy McCreath, Episcopal chaplain; and Sarah N. Saleh, a Muslim graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Rev. McCreath read "I Am No Longer Afraid of Death," a poem by Julia Esquivel about the need to nourish hope and not give one's life over to fear and preoccupation with death.
Among the thoughts expressed in prayers were that "our Muslim brothers and sisters may not be harmed," that "we may support one another in a time of crisis," and that the "spirit of understanding and reconciliation win out over negativity, vengeance and retaliation."
The 200-person overflow in Kresge was forced to hold an impromptu service when the audio failed in the live telecast from the chapel. When the off-and-on-again sound went silent about 10 minutes into the service, people started to leave.
Associate Professor Diana Henderson stood up at the front of the auditorium and urged them to remain. "Remember that the point of the service was to bring people together, she said. "If you leave, it won't have succeeded." Several students joined her and offered to lead the audience in prayer or recite prayers from their own faiths.
Junne Kamihara, a graduate student in the Health Sciences and Technology Program, prayed in her own words, then led the audience in the "The Lord's Prayer." Numan Waheed, a graduate student in chemical engineering, read several prayers inspired by the Qur'an. Lisa Katz, program coordinator of Hillel, recited the "Shma" in Hebrew and English: "Hear oh Israel. The Lord is our God. The Lord is One."
At the conclusion of the service, some people from Kresge joined others in the chapel, lining up solemnly to light candles. Many of them bowed their heads; others made the sign of the cross as they stepped off the podium. One young man wore a yarmulke. Some waited eyes down, chin in hand; others gave tight, grim smiles to the next in line as they handed off the candles, cupping their hands to protect the wicks against the chilly wind from the open doors.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 19, 2001.