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Entries in chaplainatgroundzero (1)


The Surprising Power of Listening

The burned ash of falling buildings covered their faces.  Eye sockets and foreheads were smeared in grey soot.  Eye lashes were gritty with airborne particulate, and ears stuffed with cinder. Only the skin where their medical face masks were tied on showed pink at all, having escaped the swirling ash from the World Trade Towers.

Morning after morning the ferry took the workers, traumatized into silence, to Ground Zero.  It was on the Staten Island Ferry, serving as a transport for workers in the aftermath, that the chaplain noticed the woman.

Despite the soaring temperatures that day, the frightened woman wore a fur coat.  She was maternal-aged; perhaps 40-something.  Draped in jewelry, she murmured aloud to no one in particular.  Clutching something in her pocket, she muttered like a mad woman,  "I'm not going to let them get us again.  I'll just put some of this in my daughter's milk while she's sleeping.  She'll never feel it.  Then some for me.  I'm not going to let them do this to us again."  

The chaplain was rightfully frightened by her intent.  Feeling compelled, but having no idea what to say to this woman, the chaplain was suddenly distracted by a voice calling behind him, "Excuse me just a moment."

After only seconds passed, he turned back around.  And she was gone.

The boat having just docked, he ran down the gangplank searching frantically for this woman because he knows that a baby will soon be poisoned, and her mother will commit suicide if she's not intercepted.  Unable to find her, he approached the workers' tent where his comrades prepare for the day.  Telling his story, the guilt-ridden chaplain confessed his failure to say something, anything, to the woman.  They responded, "It's not your fault;  it's okay.  It'll be alright."  Meager attempts to dampen the reality.


At this point, the tent flap opened and the missing woman walked into the tent.  The woman spotted the chaplain and with a purposeful gait, walked right up to him declaring, "There you are.  I just want to thank you so much for your advice.  Thank you for telling me that what I was doing was insane.  Look, here's the stuff; take it.  Here's my card with my cellphone number.  Come and visit.  All is well; I'm just so grateful for the word you told me; how Jesus loves me,"  she says.

And with that, she walked out of the tent.

The stunned chaplain turned to his fellow workers and admitted, "I never said a word to that woman.  All I did was listen."



[I heard Dr. Russ Parker tell this true story.   I've done my best to recapture it here.  The original account was written by a chaplain at Ground Zero. I'm unsure of the book's title.  With thanks to Russ Parker; whose stories offer some of the best theology I've ever heard.]