Les bénévoles

Ayant toujours
besoin de se
reposer durant la
fin de semaine,
Lucas fut un peu
surpris lorsque, le
premier dimanche
suivant le 11
septembre, Joe,
son fils de douze
ans, l’informa qu’il
souhaitait aller au
site du désastre
du "World Trade
Center" pour voir
s’il pouvait prêter
main-forte... 

Au centre des
bénévoles, les deux
furent mis à l’oeuvre
pour la préparation
de trousses pour
les pompiers, les
policiers et les
autres secouristes.
Ils avaient déjà
assemblé toute une
pile de trousses
lorsqu’un capitaine
de police est venu
demander à Joe :
"Est-ce que ceci fut
ton idée, mon
garçon?" Lorsque
Joe répondit
timidement que
c’était bien le cas,
l’officier lui déclara :
"Eh bien, tu es le
plus jeune volontaire
que j’ai vu ici, alors
chapeau bas!" 

À la fin de la
journée, Luke était
reconnaissant
d’avoir eu la chance
d’aider et il remercia
son fils pour cette
excellente idée en
lui disant : "Ce fut
le meilleur dimanche
que j’ai jamais
vécu."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This article originally appeared on OrionOnline.org, the website of Orion and Orion Afield magazines, under the feature headline "Thoughts on America"

The Volunteers

Peter Matthiessen
Originally published by OrionOnline.org
November 2001

y blind son Lucas commutes each day by train and subway, changing trains at Jamaica on a round trip of almost four hours between East Northport, Long Island, and Brooklyn, where he runs a clinic for drug and alcohol addiction. In early September of this year, he had lost his Seeing-Eye dog to an unexpected cancer and until the dog could be replaced, he had been obliged to change trains and navigate rail platforms and rough neighbourhoods with a white cane. Always in need of a break by the weekend, he was mildly dismayed on the first Sunday after September 11 when his twelve-year old son, Joe, informed him that he wished to go that day to the disaster site at the World Trade Center to see what he could do to help.


(photo: Designs by Trish)

Patiently, Luke suggested to the child that such a journey would be in vain, since volunteers were no longer welcome at the site. But Joe was adamant, and the more his father listened, the clearer it became that he must honour his child's decision. A few years earlier, Luke's older boy had been run over and killed on the street in front of their house, and although no link has been established, Joe can be emotional and sometimes difficult. He can also be startlingly sweet and gentle, and in the end, his father was so touched by his impulse and moved by his determination that instead of pleading for his day off, he said, All right, let's go! And away they went by train to New York City.

Arriving on the subway from Penn Station at Canal Street, this well-intentioned pair was met by a blue line of police. Taken aback by a man with a white cane and a little boy guiding his elbow, the cops were naturally incredulous, and wasted no time sending them on their way. But seeing them start north again, one officer, touched, called after them that if they were serious, they could go register at the Jacob Javits Center on West 34th Street, where rescue efforts were being coordinated. I'll try to find you guys a ride, he said, and soon he did, flagging down a building inspector who was headed uptown and providing the delighted boy with an official escort.

At the Javits Center, the staff proved unwilling to expose a child to the grim atmosphere, but when his father took responsibility, saying Joe was serious and could handle it, the two were put to work at once in the medical personnel section, assembling "care packages" for the firemen, police, and other rescue workers--eye drops, throat lozenges, moist tissues for wiping the face, aspirin, granola bars and the like. Luke's hands quickly learned the separate items, and the two had assembled quite a stack when a police captain came over and asked Joe, Was this your idea, Son? When Joe acknowledged shyly that it was, the officer said, Well, you're the youngest volunteer I've seen here and my hat's off to you. And he actually doffed his cap, reported Joe, with a proud smile in his voice, which his father felt sure had lit up the whole room.

Meanwhile, a shift of ironworkers from Ground Zero had arrived, and one man came straight to the medical group to request an aspirin. Hearing the precarious tone of this man's voice, Luke identified himself as a trained social worker and asked the man if it would help to talk. In tears, the man blurted, I've got to go home, I can't go back there! Apparently ashamed of his own frailty in the face of the dreadful conditions of his mission, he had wandered away, all but incoherent.

Even so, Luke felt grateful for the chance to offer help, and walking back to Penn Station that afternoon, he thanked his son for his excellent idea, saying, "That was one of the most worthwhile Sundays I have ever spent."