Hope for the Hurting
March 1, 2002 - The truck carrying the two bodies was due anytime.
by Amanda Knoke
A call had come in from Ground Zero that two more fire fighters' bodies had been found in the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Police prepared for the arrival of the bodies at the temporary mortuary facility located next to the medical examiner's office in New York City. There would be a brief ceremony: salutes, flag-draped stretchers, moments of silence.
The scenario, this one during the wee hours of the morning on December 12, had become commonplace in the past several days as recovery workers found more groups of bodies at Ground Zero.
As the fire fighters' colleagues and family arrived and preparations were made for the ceremony, hushed conversation and activity increased at the canteen area set up by The Salvation Army. I was one of four volunteers representing the Billy Graham NY Prayer Center working at the temporary morgue.
A Salvation Army volunteer approached me. "Do you have any more of those peace officers' Bibles?" he asked. "An officer has been asking about them. He has been to the literature table, but other officers had taken them all before he could get one. The officers love those books." Having been instructed to replenish the table as often as we could, I had brought along a couple of the Bibles to my night shift at the canteen.
Through the window where I had been passing grilled cheese sandwiches and cups of coffee, tea and hot chocolate, I now slid a Bible across the stainless steel counter toward the police officer. Tenderly he opened it and confirmed what the volunteer had earlier told me. The officer had very much desired a Bible of his own.
Others who gathered at the canteen window—state troopers, medical examiners and workers from the federal Disasters Mortuary Operational Response Team—might request toast with hot tea. The food and drink provided them some small comfort, a respite from the grisly work of identifying bodies—and parts of bodies—that are brought into the temporary morgue from Ground Zero.
The horrific images, witnessed by workers at this site, are stuffed into corners of their minds. "I have a job to do that not many can do," said one police officer. "I have had to become numb to the work. I can't get emotional about this." He lost seven fellow officers and fire fighters, all friends of his, in the September 11 attack.
In the makeshift dining area next to the canteen, near the warmth of the heaters, I listened to the different stories—memories of 9/11 spilled forth. Tears were restrained, unseen. There was work to be done. What do these workers do with the sights they are faced with day after day, month after month? I wonder.
I learned, as I heard the workers' voices and looked into their eyes, that the grief can be masked, but the pain and hurt are close to the surface. We cannot make the pain go away, but as believers in Christ, through listening ears, hearts willing to help bear the grief burden, eyes with the freedom to weep with the weeping—through Scripture and a soft prayer, or a grilled cheese sandwich and coffee—we can offer some relief. And hope.
While in New York, I met Kathi Evans, another Billy Graham NY Prayer Center volunteer. During her week of service, Kathi told me of a conversation that she had had with a woman in a subway train. The woman, Bridgette, had been employed in the financial district of New York City but now was jobless because her workplace in the World Trade Center was destroyed. Three of Bridgette's coworkers had been killed on September 11. But that has not been her most difficult challenge since the 11th. Three of Bridgette's friends lost
She looked at Kathi. "What is your hope?" she asked. "Is it that all this will come to an end?"
Kathi told her, "No, the hope I have is through Jesus Christ. If I had said that before September 11, you might have said, 'That's nice.' But now the stakes seem much higher."
"Christians have done cruel things throughout history," Bridgette said.
"You're absolutely right," Kathi responded. "Because of human nature, we love power, and throughout history many people have wrongly used religion to gain power. Our challenge today is to distinguish between God and religion in order to find the truth—God's truth."
Kathi said that Bridgette, with wide eyes, exclaimed, "That is the most logical thing I have ever heard about God!"
As they reached Bridgette's subway stop, Kathi asked for the names of Bridgette's friends so that she could pray for them. Bridgette named them and looked Kathi in the eye. "Thank you," she said before she quickly exited the subway doors.
The images of the carnage and body bags, the grief of the colleagues and beloved lost, will never fully depart from New Yorkers, or from me. But there is a balm, and there is hope. To people who grieve, we have our ears and hands and eyes to offer, and we have the hope to offer that one day Jesus will wipe away all tears—seen and unseen.