From Chicken Soup for the Soul of America

No Words

In the days that followed the bombings of the World Trade Center, New York stayed at a standstill. Those who managed to get to work did so with a sense of purpose but also with fear. Some thought that by going back to work, they were making a statement, “We’re Americans. We aren’t cowed, beaten.” But fear lurked everywhere—in the horrific images on TV, among survivors and their friends and acquaintances, in the faces of passersby on the streets.

Rowland Henley, who works for Philip Morris, needed to go back to work on Thursday. “Everything seemed surreal. I thought if I went back to work, I could shake that pervasive terrible feeling of loss. I couldn’t.” Philip Morris received a bomb scare on Thursday and the building was evacuated. People poured into the streets. Some were talking on cell phones, saying good-bye to loved ones. Rowland headed south toward the Brooklyn Bridge hoping to get home. He ended up in a bar with other evacuees, a hodgepodge of humanity—professionals, cab drivers, construction workers, firemen, and emergency workers. Their common link was their need to comfort and be comforted.

Rowland, like thousands of others, felt that the only way to mitigate the sadness growing inside him was to help in some way. When his company offered opportunities for any employee who wanted to volunteer with the Red Cross, Rowland did. His job was to provide support to the workers at Ground Zero.

“We were told to make an effort to cheer these people up. ‘Ask about the Yankees, smile big, take their mind off things. . . .’ Making small talk was just that—small and these people were giants, every one of them. I stopped trying and just threw myself into the manual labor.”

Rowland and other volunteers were put to work carrying boxes of supplies, setting out food, cleaning tables, emptying trash, filling things, hauling things, doing whatever was needed to support those doing the terrible work of clearing Ground Zero.

“They kept thanking us!” Rowland said incredulously. “They were thanking us when they were the ones who should be thanked. I wanted to say something, anything that would convey to these unselfish, caring human beings what I felt.

“I thought if I could just find the words. . . .”

But there were no words.

Even when a body was recovered, when everyone stopped and placed a hand over his heart as a processional slowly brought its precious cargo to the staging area to be taken to the makeshift morgue, even when tears fell, they fell silently. There were no words.

For some, like Rowland, that silence was the worst. One young woman whose husband or lover or friend was one of those whose body had been found stood alone inside a Salvation Army tent after the memorial. She stood there a long time just staring into space. After a time, she noticed on a table in a corner, a small stuffed animal. It was a teddy bear with a red ribbon.

“I had stopped near the opening of that tent,” said Rowland. “I had passed by before on one of my errands and seen this woman standing there. I don’t know what made me stop then and watch her. But I did. And then I was glad.”

The woman picked up the teddy bear, clutched it tightly to her and began to cry—big deep gulps of sobs. It was as if she needed something to release what was pent up inside of her. That something had to be a normal thing, a soft, lovely child’s toy sent by someone whose only intention was to offer comfort, kindness, and appreciation. And, there amidst all that devastation, the bear wasn’t the slightest bit out of place. Because all the workers—those on the pile and those, like Rowland Henley who had volunteered to go to support them—were there for the same reason.

Someone had sent this bear (and I later learned that many more were on the way) in the hope that it would provide some comfort to someone, anyone, who needed it. Its softness, its bright red ribbon against the gray, sad surroundings shown like a beacon of what it was meant to show—compassion and hope.

Sometimes words aren’t enough. And sometimes, they aren’t even necessary.

Marsha Arons

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners