Greater Love – a 9/11 memory
To many when we see the American Flag we see it as a National symbol – however on 9/11 and the days following while working at ground zero as a Paramedic involved with the search and rescue the flag became something more. Each time a fellow brother in Fire or Police were pulled from the rubble – they were placed in a stokes basket and the basket was draped with an American Flag.
Even now 10 years later each time I see the American Flag, be it as a sticker on the side of a police vehicle, waiving at the Ford dealership or even on someones shirt – I remember the many bodies I had the privileged to help carry to peace. For years I had worked in EMS and Fire – I have had to deal with many fatalities from innocent children to gang members who were in their own version of war – but 9/11 and the months following to this day still haunt my soul.
While driving in to the city our ambulance was rocked by people holding signs – and stopping us to hand us water, hugs – prayers and sharing tears – I had a rookie on board who was driving. He thought it was best to use the siren to get the people out of the way so we could get through the city to our staging area. I calmly reached over and turned the siren off – as I looked at the peoples faces I realized something – We, coming in from Southern New Jersey, were literally the only sign of hope in a city in despair -masked in acres of rubble where roads, cars and a concrete haze hid the scorched and scared faces that were looking at us empty – left without meaning. The siren only added to the shock – and our presence was supposed to be calming.
If you have ever been to New York – you will learn that even at the latest hour of the day – there are cars and buses – taxis and limo’s driving people all over the city – it was an eerie feeling as we drew closer to ground zero – We saw a sea of people all walking, some so drained mentally and emotionally you could see they were using every last ounce of their strength to drag themselves just to the next step. – and suddenly it was all quite. Hardly a sound. When we arrived just one block down from the collapse of the first tower – on Vesey street the realization of the devastation set in.
Pallets and Pallets of water and other items were just sitting in the street. We were assigned to go through the many surrounding buildings to search for survivors – sadly we did not find many. I can remember a secondary collapse in which I had to dive under a fire truck for safety – all the while thinking if the building is coming down there is no way this truck is going to save me. The first rule any EMS, Firefighter or Police officer learns is Scene Safety – look out for potential hazards. The truth is – the members of the FDNY, NYPD and the Port Authority Police knew they were running in to the most dangerous situation. As bodies were descending at the speed of gravity they were climbing as quickly as possible. Scene safety was not paramount upon arrival for these Hero’s but rather getting in – and saving as many lives as possible – even knowing that their own was not in jeopardy but already over.
A few mornings later I was exhausted and walking back from the Cafeteria – a fancy name for what really was a boat which until the terrorist attack was used to shuttle tourists around the water ways so they could “tour the city” and I found a priest ripping off his clothes screaming at God asking Him Why and Where. Where are you now God… he demanded to know. I walked over to help what obviously any EMT trained would could identify as a man who was mentally breaking down and in need of help.
I asked him his name – and he answered – I asked him why he doubted God’s presence and he pulled me by my collar over to a blue suv and read to me the note out loud -
“Dear NYPD – I am a nurse – Please don’t tow my car – AND if you find this please tell my husband and my children that I love them and if I do not make it let them know I am fulfilling John 15:13″
He demanded to know from me how God could let this happen. I sat with him for what seemed like hours – but was really only just a few minutes and felt the warm glow of the sun coming up over the horizon – as I looked up I saw a cross in the distance – this cross had tons of workers underneath it digging and working, struggling to find any one who could have possibly survived. I answered the priest and said – until now I never really could answer your question – or even that question for myself long before what happened yesterday but I do know one thing – Even as I walk through this Valley of Death the Lord is near me – He comforts Me and in the end I will lie down in Green Pastures. I pointed to the Cross – and he asked me if I would pray for him as he had “lost the words to speak to God”, I began with the Lord’s prayer – which he recited with me.
I never was able to find that priest again – even after searching – but I will never forget what he told me ” Glenn, I have a renewed faith and even in this tragedy I know that it is a promise SURELY goodness and mercy – the Love of our Father will follow us all the days of our lives – let me go and share the good news.”
With that I returned to the gator crew I was assigned to picking through the rubble.
For those who are struggling – I want to simply remind you also of that promise God has made us – He will Never Leave us or Forsake us – even when we are walking through the valley of the shadow of Death – His Rod and His staff are there to comfort us.
While driving back home I stopped at a small Baptist church in Hoboken NJ on the other side of the tunnel – ran to find a bible and opened it to John 15:13 I found something I learned as a child and had forgotten…
From the over 350 EMS, Fire and Police officers – as well as the countless other volunteers including building security and the other nameless who helped, from the folks who downed the plane in Shanksville PA, and from that nurse who most assuredly was killed we as a nation learned a lesson that most have already forgotten – except perhaps those who are still serving daily putting their lives in front of harms way day by day: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”