Brian Dominick arrived at ground zero the day after the terrorist attacks on New York City. He was one of the many out-of-state rescue workers who had come to the core of the Big Apple to help injured survivors.
Dominick, a member of the NorthEast Action Medics Association, spent most of Sept. 12 working in the decontamination area at St. Vincent's Trauma Center, about a mile from where the twin towers had crashed to earth, crushing thousands of lives and shattering America's relative sense of security.
The job there was to strip and scrub victims when they were first brought in so that the soot wouldn't contaminate the rest of the hospital.
"Unfortunately, despite rumors, these rescued victims weren't showing up. While the rest of the world was hoping and praying more rescues would be made, it was becoming ominously obvious at St. Vincent's that there would quite simply be few more survivors, if any," he wrote of his experience last week.
He described the exhaustion and dust in the air and how "both tasted identical." He spoke with dozens of other medics and doctors, one of whom had not sat down for 24 hours.
Later that day, Dominick and several other volunteers headed down to "The Site." He paints a poignant portrait. It "was an incredible scene. A light gray ash was met by reflections and glares of floodlights overhead, giving every still surface the appearance of having been lightly snowed upon."
Water from fire hoses and water main leaks mixed with the ashes and powder-like debris, creating small pools of slush. Looking at that, Dominick says, he "almost shivered by association."
He absorbed the visual horror, and observed something visible only to spiritual eyes.
"What I didn't hear, at all, were emergency workers of any kind clamoring for retaliation or war. In fact, it occurs to me that one of the only groups of people in this country which isn't demanding vengeance are the very people tasked with taking care of survivors, and recovering the thousands of bodies left in the mess.
"Among rescue and medical personnel in New York, the focus was on saving lives, not on taking more. This is certainly due in part to the necessity of staying focused on the job at hand, even during much-needed breaks. However, I think this restraint is also being shown because few people involved in the rescue efforts can bring themselves to wish upon others what they are currently going through," he wrote.
President Bush, who needs our constant prayers and support, made some clear and just demands before Congress last week, calling on the Taliban to deliver Osama bin Laden and his collaborators to international authorities, close every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan and allow full access to those sites for monitoring purposes.
"These demands are not open to negotiation," Bush said. Amen. And so military incursion is necessary if the Taliban doesn't cooperate.
"Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done," Bush declared. But isn't justice more than just seeing to it that something harmful happens to our enemies?
The president's favorite political philosopher said that God "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust," concluding that if we love only those who love us, "what reward do we have?" Do we - like those who said of Jesus "crucify him!" - deny the reality and force of that Truth?
Consider the Firefighters' Prayer I heard the other day: "When I am called to duty, God, wherever flames may rage/ Give me the strength to save a life, whatever be its age/ Help me embrace a little child before it is too late/ Or save an older person from the horror of that fate/ Enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout/ And quickly and efficiently to put the fire out/ I want to fill my calling to give the best in me/ To guard my friends and neighbors and protect their property/ And if according to my fate I am to lose my life/ Please bless with your protecting hand my children and my wife."
Rising from the rubble and ruin in Manhattan are stories of heroism. Emerging from the cloud of smoke and ash is a spirit of hope, justice and compassion.
And as the dust settles, a guiding vision for the "war against terrorism" is offered. It is a path of light leading out of darkness and destruction.
A judgment by fire? Yes, but as theologian Walter Wink says, "Jesus...understood judgment not as an end, but as a beginning. The penitential river of fire was not to consume but to purify, not to annihilate but to redeem. Divine judgment is intended, not to destroy, but to awaken people to the devastating truth about their lives."
I pray that our leaders be tough-minded but soft-hearted - just like those rescue workers in Manhattan. It's America at its best and it's what the world desperately needs.
Sean Gonsalves is a Cape Cod Times staff writer and syndicated columinist. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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