Two Sets of Eyes, A Story of Ground Zero
Written for the Anniverasray of 9/11/2001
Guest Post from Steve Garrington, a member of our community.
How long has it been? Can it be more than ten years? It is time to look back and reflect on all that fateful day meant. To me, a volunteer in the recovery effort in New York City for The Salvation Army, it all comes down to two sets of eyes. I had just finished a delivery to one of The Salvation Army’s rest areas at ground zero (it this case I think it was “Chapstick”) when I saw the first set of eyes. They were on the face of a fork lift driver. I was walking back to my truck taking the back streets to avoid traffic when I saw him; when I saw his eyes. His huge forklift was sliding under a late model Honda. The car was covered with the dust that had blanketed the area for blocks around when the towers fell. On its window someone had written some letters and numbers with a grease pencil. This code told the fork lift operator what he needed to know. I did not understand the code, but I knew it meant that the owner would not be coming back for that car.
Backing up nearby was a semi with a flatbed trailer. In a few moments this Honda would be lifted up onto this trailer, chained down, and taken away. I looked down the street. There were many more dust covered, window encoded cars awaiting the same fate. And then I saw his eyes. They were slightly closed and stared at the Honda. There was hurt in those eyes. He did not want this job. He did not want to be anywhere near this place of destruction. His eyes told you that. They were not hard set and stoic, but had the pleadings of someone who has lost hope. Those eyes had wanted to scream, to cry, to lash out. Those eyes were tired now and didn’t know where to turn. I walked on. One does not long stare into the eyes of a man losing hope.
Those eyes haunt me still, yet there was another set of eyes; a vastly different set of eyes. These belonged to a Salvation Army lady.
I saw these eyes when I went to an area called Pier 94. This is where the families went to find assistance. She was with the Salvation Army, and was sitting in a folding chair behind a cheap 8 foot table, like you see at a church supper. Across from her was small Hispanic lady with two even smaller children. They had come to The Salvation Army, because they had no place else to go. This “Lassie” was younger than I, maybe 35 or 40. Her blue jacket was on the back of her chair and her white blouse had that red felt with the familiar “S” in the center. She was not what you might call pretty; her hair was in need of combing, and I was about to turn away when I saw her eyes.
They glanced at the piles of paperwork, and lingered on her writing, but always returned to the family who was in such need. They looked deep into the eyes of that poor mother. They called to her eyes and seemed to say “there is still hope.” They were tired, but they had the steel and determination of a soldier. They had the compassion of an angel. They had the faith and hope of a saint. As she arranged to help that poor lady with her rent; those eyes almost - smiled.
Two sets of eyes. The dream and the nightmare. The pain and the peace. The hurt and the hope. This September 11th, I will concentrate on the second set of eyes. Maybe I’ll go to a church meeting and pray for both of those nameless people. Perhaps I’ll pray for myself and wonder what people see when they look into my eyes.