As you all know, I am in the process of writing a book. It is close to completion. I would like to share with you a very small section of one of my chapters on seeing Ground Zero for the first time.
The chapter title is "First Impressions"
I turned the corner and halted my step at the Church Street intersection. I stared incredulously at the confusion directly in front of me, my mouth dropped. I tried to focus my eyes, grasp at reality as to what lay before me, such devastation. There was an inordinate amount of debris, piles of it! Now it became clear to me why Jean told me that Ground Zero was called "The pile". These were enormous piles, slabs of concrete, holding no definition as to what they originally were. Some sections of the buildings were still partially standing, while others were completely unrecognizable. There, straight ahead and to my right, stood what was left of a parking garage, with several cars still inside, abandoned forever, I assumed. The majority of the vehicles were demolished upon recognition. Oh my God, this is not like what I saw on TV, this is worse than anything I could ever imagine! Little did I know what I was seeing was not the main devastation of the two trade towers but of smaller buildings that had collapsed from its wake. Tears began to well up.
Then it hit me, an overpowering intense stench. What in the world was it? How does one describe that burning raw pungent mixture? I really didn’t want to know what this horrific smell was, as my mind started to wonder as to all the many possibilities of what could be mixed in with it. I immediately placed my hand over my nostrils to help clear that foreboding odor out of my head. I started shaking my head, this can’t be real, this must be some sort of dream. No this cannot be a dream, who in their right mind would dream something as dreadful as this? This is truly a nightmare! That initial view and smell has been ingrained in my head even to this day. I’m afraid it is something I will never ever be able to eliminate from the depths of my soul.
I questioned myself for the umpteenth time, what the heck am I doing here? I didn’t want to take it all in; I didn’t want to smell that acrid odor. I shuddered and took a tentative breath telling myself to step away from all of the chaos. The initial thought was to run as far as I could away from the devastation. But I knew deep down that running back to the safety and security of my hotel would not be the right plan. I had to be strong and prove to myself that this could be done; I could work at Ground Zero and even make a difference. I needed to keep moving, but in the direction of Ground Zero. I kept repeating to myself,Just put one foot in front of the other Jane. It was time to begin my volunteer experience. Hurry, I thought. Don’t look at it; just keep your eyes focused on what is straight ahead! Look for that flag!
The red, white and blue of our country’s flag stood off in the distance. I was mesmerized by it's beauty. These were the only colors that I had noticed since leaving the subway. All was a blanket of gray except for this beautiful American Flag. It was shrouding my entire building! Now I understand what Jean was telling me, this has to be it! I found myself almost racing towards it, focusing on it alone. I was breathing heavily, but feeling so determined not to slow down, not to look back. Nothing was going to stop me, nothing! There is a purpose for why you are here, I thought, and that purpose and strength would see me through this country’s difficult time.
I reached for the door and stepped inside.