follows desire to help at Ground Zero
By Anne Bromley
a very haunted place, said U.Va. psychologist Mala Cunningham
of what has come to be known around the world as Ground Zero.
was not long after first hearing of the need for grief counselors
that Cunningham, who works in the Health
Systems Heart Center and teaches alternative therapies
in the Medical School, headed for New York City to volunteer her
she found in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attack on the World
Trade Center was the striking dichotomy of what humans are capable
of the kind of hatred that could cause such destruction
and the kind of heroism and support people continue to give to
Cunningham, who shared her experience earlier this week at a brown
bag lunch sponsored by the Humanities in Medicine program, it
was not just a professional visit, but personal and spiritual
as well. She made the journey without having plotted a course
of action. All she knew was she that wanted to contribute her
expertise towards healing.
took with her a cache of small tokens angel pins and flag
pins to give to people she encountered. They became an
instant bridge to exhausted rescue workers and traumatized family
members when she offered a willingness to listen. The universe
was supporting my efforts, Cunningham said, explaining that
she bought the pins with funds donated by the School of Medicine
and Charlottesville Mayor Blake Caravati.
the haunted village the evening was dark and shadowy.
Generators cast an eerie light
across the barricaded ruins
of Ground Zero.
Steel fences, police, National Guard held their vigil long
into the cold night.
I noticed him walking dazed amongst the twisted steel
and scent of death. His posture spoke of a man half
broken and half defiant
wrapped in the American flag.
He moved slowly, aimlessly up one street and down another.
Circling Ground Zero.
Holding to a vigil that we all understood.
Each step echoed the horror
of the step before
but the flag was his refuge.
His symbolic gesture of comfort.
They killed his people and shattered the buildings
But they could never destroy the American spirit.
she arrived in New York, she discovered an overflow of volunteers
and a complicated scheduling process. So, she simply headed to
Ground Zero and started handing out pins and consolation. It wasnt
long before she began visiting police stations and a medical examiners
office and working at Pier 94, the temporary village set up to
dispense much needed services to victims and families.
also worked at a holistic center giving massages to weary rescue
workers. She described how one policeman came in and laid his
guns and bulletproof vest on the massage table, juxtaposing between
his tools of violence and the healing hands of the therapist.
When she began to work on his muscles, his back was like
a brick wall, she said. These people are armored in
more ways than one. Its the way they cope.
acute exhaustion from long shifts in horrendous conditions, many
of the workers didnt want to go home, she said. They
were driven to find survivors, even though they basically knew,
after two or three days, that they wouldnt find anyone else
had nowhere to go with their grief, she said, and tried to keep
it contained so they could push forward with their work. They
were reluctant to burden their families, already worried about
their dangerous working conditions. Everyone was, affected, she
said, emotionally and physically even the rescue dogs.
counseled one woman, an artist whose studio had been in the World
Trade Center and whose artwork revolved around its image. She
had lost her livelihood and didnt know how to get on with
her life. Cunningham reassured her that millions of people all
over the world were praying for every individual touched by the
the last night of her stay, Cunningham revisited Ground Zero,
where the ash of pulverized cement was still six inches thick
and the smell of death toxic. There she saw a man wandering the
streets, his eyes full of despair, his body draped in the hope
of an American flag. His troubled visage inspired her to write
the above poem.