For­ever etched in my mind

The Covington News - - Front page -

He was a lit­tle boy about 4 years old. I don’t know his name, but his face is for­ever etched in my mind.

We met in a con­verted pier in New York City, just a week af­ter the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001. He was with his mom, who was seek­ing help. The pier, on the West side of Man­hat­tan had be­come the clear­ing­house for every­one who was a vic­tim of 9/11.

The woman’s hus­band worked for a fi­nan­cial ser­vices firm in the up­per floors of the World Trade Cen­ter. He was killed in the tragedy. How­ever, in those early days af­ter the at­tack, no one was quite ready to say the word “dead.” The search was still on for those who could have been trapped in the rub­ble.

The young mother had been tem­po­rar­ily un­able to ac­cess her hus­band’s ac­counts and was in need of money to sus­tain them for a few days.

The lit­tle boy was fid­gety and picked up ev­ery­thing in reach on the fold­ing ta­ble that served as my desk.

“Are you go­ing to help me find my daddy,” he said, star­ing at me with big brown eyes. The ques­tion took my breath away. I re­ally don’t know what I said. His mother’s eyes welled up with tears.

I was able to get them a check from the funds that had been made avail­able. When they left, I went to a cur­tained off area that was de­signed for vol­un­teers to have a quiet place to go. By the time, I went through the cur­tain, I was sob­bing.

A Mus­lim Imam, who was one of the chap­lains at the site, saw that I was vis­i­bly shaken and came and wrapped his arms around me. There we were, a Bap­tist and a Mus­lim, and I was grate­ful for his com­fort­ing touch.

I went to New York as a vol­un­teer and was for­ever changed by the ex­pe­ri­ence. They told us not to get emo­tion­ally at­tached to those we help, be­cause the num­ber would be great.

But I still think about that lit­tle boy. He’s 12 now. Most kids that age have no real mem­ory of 9/11, but he will never for­get it. I’ve thought about his mother. I’ve won­dered if she re­mar­ried or if they even live in New York any­more.

There are oth­ers I think about. The Caribbean woman who ac­ci­den­tally left on her street shoes and had to go back to the base­ment to get her work shoes. Her co-worker, who went ahead to the up­per floors of the tower, was killed.

I think of the small Chi­nese man who spoke no English, but had his new set of den­tures crushed when he was tram­pled by the press­ing mob rush­ing to exit. I helped him get money for new teeth. I’ve thought about his new teeth and the old ones in crum­pled pieces in a plas­tic bag.

I also think of Edna Stephens, a Gainesville na­tive who was killed at the Pen­tagon. I have vis­ited her memo­rial bench and left a stone there to show I was there.

It has been eight years. Some­times it seems so long ago. I won­der some­times if the events of 9/11 have changed Amer­ica, other than more se­cu­rity at air­ports.

I know I will never be the same.

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