Written by Susan Smith, a Red Cross employee. She served in New York City on behalf of the Red Cross and was away from her family and Triad home from September through mid November 2001.
I was asked if I would share my experiences that started on a crisp, beautiful, clear blue sky day in September 2001 – my first thought…where I begin. So many emotions, thoughts, words, deeds experiences… but my mind kept coming back to “faces”.
The day started like many others for me…arrived at the Greensboro Chapter, first “face” was our smiling receptionist, then other co-workers greeting each other with hello, volunteers in the chapter for meetings, office volunteers beginning their “normal” day too…next it was down the hall to my office, check a few emails and then for a reason I don’t recall I walked into our blood center and saw the first news report of a day that would change me forever and the “faces” of the news reporters, “faces” of people running for their lives, “faces” of the responders running into danger, “faces” of people helping people .
My first thought was disbelief, horror and then like thousands of “Red Crossers” across the country we started doing what we do – and the “faces” started to appear –“faces” of our seasoned volunteers coming into the chapter, instinctively knowing there was much ahead of us; “faces” of blood donors lining up to give blood – those “faces”, patiently waiting for hours to donate with no complaints, “faces” of the community offering help in every way they could think of, “faces” of Red Cross employees doing whatever the moment called for.
Next were the “faces” of the many volunteers coming to the Greensboro chapter for deployment to the Red Cross response at the Pentagon, Somerset County PA and New York City.
In early October, I too was a “face” on a plane bound for New York to serve on our Red Cross Disaster Relief Operation.
The first voice and “face” I encountered as I anxiously walked into the Red Cross Headquarters was one of the Greensboro volunteers I helped deploy a few weeks before, her “face” full of compassion and comfort and around her “faces” of the multitude of the Red Cross family – not only American Red Cross but our Canadian Red Crossers – those “faces” gave me and so many others much comfort as we set out to serve and many of us making friendships for a lifetime.
My role was to help coordinate the thousands of Red Crossers’ and spontaneous volunteers arriving in NYC to serve alongside each other. I began in our Headquarters based in Brooklyn and within a few days was assigned to a client assistance center on Canal Street just blocks away from Ground Zero and right on the edge of Chinatown…so many “faces” of people needing assistance and volunteers with willing hearts. Forever I’ll remember the “face” of the young Chinese teenager intently watching and learning each stroke of the elder Chinese gentleman’s pen as he translated a sign I needed to post in the center…it is as clear in my mind today as it was that day the connection they too made that day, never having experienced an opportunity to see the beautiful strokes to make the words.
At the service center, I met a young couple from Pakistan that lived a few blocks away, their “faces” wanting to serve even though they too had been affected – her uncle had been badly injured when one of the Towers collapsed. I so remember their “faces” the day I told them I was being reassigned to work in a Respite Center in the Ground Zero perimeter that Red Cross was providing for responders – their “faces” of concern that I would most likely not find my way navigating the subway so insisted they ride with me on the subway to get me where I needed to go…and upon arrival at the subway station to find it closed… their “faces” knowing I had no idea of how to hail a cab –they hailed the cab for me, gave the driver very specific instructions… as the cab pulled away and I waved goodbye knowing our paths would never cross again I saw in their “faces” another moment of many moments when the “faces” of New Yorkers reflected gratefulness beyond compare…grateful so many people came to help their beloved city…I like to think they remember my face of grateful ness too!
I arrived at the Respite Center – “faces” of the first responders, steel workers, construction workers – so many coming in for brief moments of rest, sleep, nourishment, quick showers , additional equipment, clean clothes, many hadn’t been home in weeks – “faces” missing their loved ones, somber, tired yet determined, strong – those “faces” had shed many a tear but also had ear to ear smiles when they read the thousands of cards and banners posted around the Respite Center… many handmade, drawn by school children with so many pictures and words of thank you, remembrance, faith, encouragement and love. I remember the “faces” of the strong, muscular, tough steel workers, as one stuck a teddy bear in his hip pocket as he walked to take a short nap and the other ribbing him. Again, “faces” of willing volunteers doing everything humanly possible to put on our strong “faces” as we committed to give the responders much needed respite care.
November 12th, I had finished packing my bag and doing the last check of my room when the news of American Airlines Flight 587 leaving NYC for Santo Domingo crashed in the Belle Haven neighborhood of Queens, all 260 souls on board perished and 5 people on the ground…the phone in my room rang, it was my supervisor asking me to make my way to the Family Assistance center the Red Cross was setting up in response to this tragedy…I’ll never forget the “faces” of the families learning the fate of their loved ones… “faces” of grief beyond description.
A few days later I was welcomed home by “faces” of my loving family – relieved I was home safe and as humbled as I was that their mom, wife, sister, daughter was honored to serve in a small way.
In January of 2014, I went back to New York City to serve on the Red Cross Super Storm Sandy relief operation– on a day off I knew I had to pay my respects at the World Trade Center 9/11 Memorial and decided a tour would be best…while waiting for the tour to begin, the guide asked me if I was in town for a visit or business…as soon as I said Red Cross her “face” lit up, she asked me where I worked…while we didn’t remember each other’s physical “faces” we discovered she had volunteered with Red Cross at the same Respite Center I had during the same time…our paths crossed in 2001 and again in 2014…call it coincidence or fate, it doesn’t matter another “face” I carry with me.
Like thousands of others my life changed forever on September 11, 2001. The “faces” will forever stir so many things in my soul…I will NEVER FORGET those that perished and I will NEVER FORGET the “faces” in my heart…“faces” of courage, compassion, faith , hope, charity, love and human kindness beyond compare -