Amazing Spirit Arisen from Devastation

Article excerpt

ON MY first day at the site, a demolition worker jumped down from his hydraulic grab and tapped me on the shoulder. He said, "Say a prayer for me, Father." (We found out that New Yorkers call anyone with a clergy collar, "Father.") I said, "What's your name?" and he said "Tim," then ran back and climbed into his machine and resumed digging.

Two days later I saw Tim walking past and could tell that he wanted to talk, so I watched where he went. Later I went up to him and said, "Your name's Tim, right?" He said, "You remember me?" He then went on to unburden himself for over half an hour.

It turned out that he had been working the grab for 12 hours a day for a solid month. With every bucketful he was mindful that it might contain human remains, so he emptied each one gently, spread out the contents so that the police dogs could check it out, then picked up another - hour after hour, day after day. This quiet, gentle man exemplified, for me, the amazing spirit, hard work and resilience of the people there.

He told me that if he hadn't been able to go home and hug his wife and children every day he would have folded up. He talked to me about his feelings for more than half an hour. I hugged him and he went back to work.

Normal crisis intervention stress management practice did not work at this event. We talked to people at their jobs, let them vent, and then get back to work.

Officer Willie Jimeno of Port Authority Police Department was a deeply religious man of about 27. His wife, seven months pregnant, was at his side in the hospital.

Willie normally worked at the bus terminal but went to the World Trade Center that day to help. He had just taken confidential documents out when the building collapsed, trapping him for 12 hours. His overpowering thirst made him hallucinate, but he was not frightened because he expected to die and envisioned God waiting for him with a bottle of ice-cold water.

Miraculously he was found; his left leg crushed, his right leg cramped and his right arm torn from broken cinder blocks. He expects to return to duty after months of physiotherapy for muscle damage.

Willie is a person who will make a difference. He is already thinking more about others than about himself.

The fact that we had come from so far away moved many people to hug us. It was evident, that the caring of others was motivating these people to extend themselves to the limit.

Overall, anger had given way to fierce resolve. Many workers had progressed, of their own accord, through the various stages of coping with trauma.

The effectiveness of properly accredited chaplains was very evident. …