Seeing God in My Neighbors
I thought I knew them--and then it was Tuesday
Last month, I thought I knew my neighbors. We'd wave at each other as we drove by, chat in the supermarket, and have cookie swaps at Christmas. Nice folks.
I also thought I knew New Yorkers. I lived in the city for twenty years before I moved to the suburbs, and I still go in to work on 23rd Street when I'm not telecommuting from home. New Yorkers are gruff, straight-talking people who are nicer than reputation leads you to believe, but always in a hurry.
Then came Tuesday, September 11th, and I found out I didn't know New Yorkers--or my neighbors--at all. Maybe you discovered the same thing.
That morning, I drove my six-year-old son Jonathan to school in our bucolic New York exurb of Warwick, New York. When I returned to my home office at 9:19 to start my Beliefnet day, there were two phone messages from my husband, Robert Scott, who edits a magazine based one block from the World Trade Center. The first said, "There's been a big explosion. Someone says a small plane hit the Trade Center." The second said, "Hey, there's been another explosion." I called him back, then turned on the television. As I watched, the first trade tower imploded. And then my husband was gone. He could not be reached by landline or cell phone. As it had for countless thousands of others, my long day of waiting had begun.
Thankfully, my husband's journey would take him through "nuclear winter" into the open arms of help and kindness.
Joyce Baldassarri lives in Staten Island, New York, just across the harbor from the southern tip of Manhattan--in full view of the World Trade Centers. As soon as the magnitude of the tragedy became clear, Joyce rushed to the local police department to see what she could do to help, but they were in high alert themselves and had no time to coordinate civilian efforts. So Joyce took matters into her own hands.
She realized that thousands of people who work in lower Manhattan south of the World Trade Center had to be evacuated through a landscape now devoid of oxygen, filled instead with gas fumes and smoke--and covered in darkness and inches of ash. They could not be moved north; there was no way to get past the disaster site. There was only one other way out--to the south, on board the ferry to Staten Island. And so they began arriving, hundreds of men and women who were escaping with their lives but not much else. Jackets, purses, briefcases had been left in offices quickly abandoned.