Kimberly’s Story of Ground Zero   4 comments

Kimberly supported her dear friend Lisa as they visited Ground Zero 3 months after the attacks.  Lisa’s father was a fireman who died in the inferno.  This is her recounting of that visit.

“Sixth and Houston,”

…said my friend, Lisa, as we slid into the back seat of the New York taxicab, shaking the snow from our scarves.  “There’s a fire house there.”

The driver pulled away from the curb, and the sights and sounds of the city night flooded our senses.  It had been a long journey already—driving to New York from Virginia, and taking the train into the heart of Manhattan–but we knew it was only the beginning.  I silently asked God to calm my nerves so that I could be a support to my friend through this night.

Handing the cab driver the fare as we stood once again on the snowy pavement, and turning toward the brick building that housed the FDNY 2nd Battalion, we were faced head-on with our mission.  There, among 8 or 9 others on the glass window in front, was the striking portrait of Richard Prunty.  It was the same smiling face that stood framed in the curio cabinet of his widowed wife’s living room, next to the honors and medals he had received during his career as a fire fighter.

Upon entering the building, we were greeted by several gregarious uniformed men.  We shook their hands, and Lisa introduced herself.

“Hello, I’m Lisa—Richard Prunty’s daughter.”

We were taken through the station house to the kitchen to wait for our “escort.”  We walked past brick and steel walls covered with cards, letters, pictures, and posters scrawled with children’s disarrayed letters: “T-H-A-N-K  Y-O-U  F-O-R  H-E-L-P-I-N-G  U-S.”  and red, white, and blue hearts, angels, and crosses adorning them.

As I passed the racks of helmets and huge burn-proof jackets with the familiar reflective yellow stripe across the middle, I kept reminding myself that I was not on a movie or television set.  This was real.   I had seen the “Third Watch” special episodes in September…and I kept expecting to see cameras and TV stars waiting for the next “take.”

Then, I felt like I was drifting somewhere above the floor…and I couldn’t feel my body.  Was I real?  Was this a dream?  Why was I here?  What was I thinking?  Who did I think I was, this naïve, insignificant girl from the Mid-West…  Suddenly, I needed a bathroom.  I was directed to a dirty, tiled room with a urinal and toilet, and I closed the door slowly, so as not to alarm Lisa.  Then I bent over and allowed my stomach to empty itself into the toilet.  Immediately I felt connected with my body again.  I prayed that God would help me …for Lisa’s sake.

I joined Lisa in the kitchen where we sipped coffee for a few moments until a tall, sandy-haired man in his thirties came in.  “I’m Mike Simon,” he said as he warmly shook our hands.  “Please come with me.”  He fit every ‘New Yorker’ stereotype I could imagine:  the thick accents, the dark-skinned ruggedness, and the loud, matter-of-fact way of speaking.

We headed back out into the blustery night, and stepped into the big van marked with a yellow and blue “Fire Squad” insignia.  Lisa and I piled into the bench seat behind the driver, who greeted us with a warm smile, and Mike Simon settled into the passenger seat up front.  Then, we were navigating the slush-covered streets once again—our final leg of the journey into this night.  We drove further on, passing a point marked, “Only WTC Vehicles and Deliveries Beyond This Point.”  The police guard waved at the van as we moved on past, and we drove toward what is known to rescue workers simply as “the pit.”

The snow seemed to pick up as we exited the Fire Squad van and followed Mike through a series of scaffoldings with spray-painted instructions and warnings.  Then we entered the Command Post—an actual old firehouse that was now the nearest intact building to our journey’s end…Ground Zero itself.

Finally, we began to ascend the stairs that would take us to the 4-story rooftop for our closer-than-bird’s-eye-view of the disaster site.  This was the place where Lisa’s father had spent his last moments, and the taking of family members to this place was hoped to bring some kind of closure to the ongoing grief…perhaps some reality into the hundreds of images running through the minds of loved ones.

From our four-story vantage point, my eyes took in a scene that would forever be etched in my mind.  A large area on the ground level was clear of debris, and roads and ramps had been constructed in what looked like a whole separate world.  A four-by-six square block area of the city had been transformed into a world of steel and concrete piles.  Hundreds of orange-vested workers scanned and roamed on foot, while scores of construction cranes, dump trucks, and other machinery moved along the dirt roads, picking up mountains of steel and moving it to smaller piles to be sifted through.

At the heart of this newly created world was a downward sloping dirt ramp.  It began at the ground level, where three demolished buildings (there were seven destroyed in all, with others missing tops and floors) had been completely cleared so trucks could drive easily around the sorted piles.  The ramp then spiraled down.  Trucks drove slowly downward to where the city streets were now high above them.  The cranes there were still tearing at walls that towered over them.  These were the walls that were once hundreds of feet above the city streets.

The fireman explained that every foot of debris at that level comprised approximately one floor of each World Trade Tower.  Each floor was still on top of the others as they should be…only compacted down to a mere foot of rubble.  Mike pointed to a landmark on a building across the way and told us that was how high the rubble originally stood.

“When the debris was that high,” I asked, “…how did you begin clearing it?  I mean, I see the cranes now picking up the piles, but what did you use when the piles were higher than any piece of equipment could reach?”


He turned to stand directly in front of me, feet shoulder width apart, and stretched out his hands, palm up.  That had a deep impact on me, and I only stared at him.  “Equipment and tools were worthless then.” he explained to me.  “People just went right up to it and started tearing at it with their hands.”

I looked at Lisa, her eyelashes covered with snowflakes as she drew her scarf closely under her chin to shield her from the wind.  As my arm went around Lisa’s shoulders, I asked, “What do you need, Lisa?  Is there anything you are going to wish you had done when we leave?”

Mike seemed to be inspired by that question, because his face softened, and then became serious as he looked Lisa straight in the eye.  “I worked with your dad a lot.  He was an amazing man.”  He paused briefly, as if to get the courage to say what he was thinking.  “He was in the lobby that day, Lisa.  He had heard the call to evacuate.  He was calling his men back down the stairs.  He knew he was in danger…but he would not leave his men there.  He was not that kind of chief.  He wouldn’t leave them.”

Then, there was nothing more to say.  Mike looked at the face of his chief’s daughter…standing in the dark night overlooking that fateful site…and had nothing left to say.  “Could you give us a few moments alone?” I asked him softly, and he nodded thankfully.  “Sure,” he told me.  “Take as much time as you need.”

I knew I could offer my stoic friend no words of comfort now.  This was way beyond words, and because of that, I hesitated to do the next thing I did.  But I also knew that the Presence of God is deeper than words, and calling upon Him now was what we needed.  “Lisa,” I said softly as she stared straight ahead.  Her face glistened in the lights from the wetness of the snowflakes.  “Can I pray now?”

She nodded without changing her expression.  Then, my eyes moved from her face back to The Pit.  I had no idea what to say, but I threw self-consciousness to the wind.  Neither of us would remember any words spoken now.  I simply wanted God in the experience of this night.

When my eyes turned back toward the piles of debris below, suddenly there was an unmistakable impression upon me.  My view was transformed.  I had been staring at a pit of destruction a few minutes before, my mind clouded with questions and sorrow.  But now I could not see any of the things I had just looked upon.

My eyes fixated on the lights.  Large, football-stadium lights had been erected all around The Pit, shining down into it, a light that was brighter than day.  The light snowfall emphasized the path of light as it came down from the sky and shone over the work below.

What had been mountains of rubble and trash months earlier…the tomb of thousands, with chaos and fear…overwhelming images of destruction…had been transformed, as I had said earlier…into a whole new world.  What I now saw below was human resiliency.  I saw order.  I saw people volunteering their time to sift through piles piece by piece, to drive trucks to and fro, clearing the chaos.  I saw the pieces being picked up, and life moving along.

And the glaring image I was receiving into my senses now was that it was only possible to do this around the clock because of the light from above.  A power source greater than these mere people was surrounding the entire area, making forward movement possible in darkness.

Lisa and I stood in silence for a moment, watching the beams of light cut through the dark, snowy night.  The ground was covered with a fresh blanket of white, not slowing down the workers, but giving onlookers a sense of freshness.  Pure white now covered the place that was once blood red.

Only one word was fit to be spoken, then.  “I can see,” I whispered reverently into the night air, “Redemption.”



Posted September 11, 2011 by janathangrace in Guests

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4 responses to “Kimberly’s Story of Ground Zero

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  1. thank you for sharing, Kimberly….

  2. What a beautiful story! Thank you, Kimberly, for sharing this with us!

  3. Thank you for taking the time to read the story. During the news coverage of 9/11 on this 10th anniversary, my memories of that time were beckonning me to share, and so I shared this story with Janathan that I had written back then. It had hit so close to home for me on both fronts. I lived less than a mile away from the Pentagon, and then my connection to New York through Lisa and her father. Sharing my story with others and hearing theirs has been such a point of connection and healing.

  4. Woops. That anonymous up there was me, Kimberly.

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