When tragedy struck the World Trade Center, one of our own was called to the scene.
Posted in , Oct 31, 2008
Tina had warned me that something like this might come up. On her final interview for the position of my assistant, she mentioned that she was a trained emergency medical technician (EMT) with the volunteer Central Park Medical Unit. CPMU was part of the city's Emergency Response Team. "If something terrible happened, I'd have to report immediately."
"How terrible?" I wanted to know. I have to admit I didn't necessarily like the idea of losing my assistant every time there was an emergency. New York is full of emergencies.
"It would have to be something pretty big," she quickly assured me, and then added, "like another explosion at the World Trade Center."
I relaxed. I felt pretty confident that wasn't going to happen.
We all know how mistaken that assumption was. As I sat at my desk on the morning of September 11, our conversation came back to me. Tina grabbed her things from her cubicle outside my office and rushed to the elevator. She would be heading downtown to the financial district, a couple miles south of our 34th Street offices. Already out our windows we could see the pluming smoke from the stricken World Trade Center. The undulating wails of sirens converged from every direction. Not long after Tina left, the first tower crashed, followed shortly by its doomed twin.
Had Tina gotten caught down in the horrifying collapse?
We didn't know for a number of hours, until Tina was finally able to call me. We heard very little from her for the rest of that week as she joined other EMTs supporting the hundreds of rescue workers searching around the clock for survivors in the smoldering mountain of rubble. When one of us did get a call from her, we always ended with the same message: Be safe. We're praying for you.
We prayed a lot for Tina, for all of the people down there at the site. Around the Guideposts offices, we were pretty proud of her, even a little envious that she got to be right at Ground Zero. Most New Yorkers—like most Americans, I imagine—were ready to go down there and dig through the wreckage with their bare hands, but access was mainly restricted to people with medical and rescue training. It was frustrating being so close but not being able to lend a hand in the search for survivors.
The following Monday afternoon, September 17, I looked up from my desk to see Tina in the doorway with a camera. "Smile," she said, taking a shot.
"What's it for?"
I didn't get it, but Tina was in a hurry to go back down to the site. Later I asked Ptolemy, one of our editors, what was going on. "Seems there's a lady," Ptolemy said, "who walks around Ground Zero handing photographs to the searchers and saying, 'This person is praying for you.' Firefighters slip them into the brims of their helmets. They say it helps keep them going."
Tina had met the lady and told her about her colleagues praying back at the Guideposts offices. She promised she would get her some pictures.
In the aftermath of the attack, Americans everywhere yearned to reach out, to give care. For some close by—like Tina and the other emergency responders—it meant rushing to a scene of chaos and danger. For countless firefighters, ironworkers and volunteers, it meant searching tirelessly in the smoking ruins even as hope slipped away. What I remember most from those first few days was the strange silence that hung over our city, a silence punctuated by sirens and church bells. For so many of us, those bells were a steady reminder that when we pray, we give perhaps the most needed care of all.
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Edward Grinnan is Editor-in-Chief and Vice President of GUIDEPOSTS Publications.