Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pax in Caritas on 9-11

My mother has one of the best attitudes of anyone I know. One of her axioms is when you're sad or lonely or depressed, get out there and help someone who's worse off.

I remember 9-11. I was working for a small company, and when I walked into the office that morning, something was amiss. "The twin towers were hit by a plane" someone said. I remembered how the Empire State Building had been hit by a plane many years ago, and thought it was something similar at first. Some idiot in a Cessna had takena wrong turn. "No, it's a jet" I was told.

The offices we were in had cable, but no TV (we were using it for internet access only). One of the guys went across the street to an electronics store and bought a TV, and we connected it in the conference room. The entire office piled into the room and we sat around the TV.

The images were shocking. We watched the towers go down, and spent the rest of the day talking about it and watching it played over and over. Being in central NJ, we could actually see the cloud of smoke near the horizon drifting southward. That faint cloud no the horizon made it much more real than the images on the TV set.

Over the next few days, stories began to come in. One of my best friends worked in the towers, but took that day off to take care of a parking permit issue. He was one of the only survivors in his company. Our church was hit especially hard. We had (if I recall the numbers correctly) something like 40 parishioners who were in the building, and we lost many of them. I remember going to memorial services and hearing them play the 4th verse of "America the Beautiful"

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

while we all sat and cried. Over the next few days it became clear that I was sad. Well, now I'd say "duh", but it didn't hit me right away. I decided it was time to help someone. Fortunately for me DW's company had a program where employees (and their spouses) could volunteer to help support the rescue efforts. So we signed up, got our assignment and set out for some warehouse in northern NJ to do something. What we wound up doing was sorting donated material and moving it around a hug warehouse to be sent over by barge to the rescue workers.

We had pallets of work gloves, dust masks, water, sports drinks, T shirts. You name it, we loaded it up. In retrospect the work was fairly trivial in the grand scheme of things, and we weren't equipped with the skills to do it very well (computer geeks are not known for their strong backs), but we were doing something to help, and it was like therapy for me. When I went home that evening, sweaty and dirt streaked, I felt 100% better.

The moral of this story, if there is one, is that sometimes, mother knows best. Feeling blue? Find someone and help them. You'll be doing both of you a favor.


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