Martinez minister recalls helping at ground zero after 9/11 attacks

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The Rev. Cynthia Taylor rolled a piece of glass and marble in her palms.

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The Rev. Cynthia Taylor holds a piece of glass from the World Trade Center given to her while she volunteered.    ZACH BOYDEN-HOLMES/STAFF
The Rev. Cynthia Taylor holds a piece of glass from the World Trade Center given to her while she volunteered.

Ten years ago, both pieces helped hold the World Trade Cen­ter together.

She knows that 10 years ago people walked on the marble that would have been near an elevator and someone gazed through the glass that made up one of the upper windows, but she wonders whether they’re alive today.

Taylor was given the pieces while she and seven other members of the Church of the Holy Com­forter congregation volunteered at ground zero nearly seven months after the attacks.

Crews had already cleared out 75 percent of the pit when the group arrived, but emotions still ran high.

“Here it was all these months later, and to those people (recovery workers) it was Sept. 12,” Taylor said.

The team – the smallest to volunteer at the site – worked the night shift from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. at St. Paul’s Chapel, a small church nearby that was untouched by the destruction. Several nights the team watched as recovery workers recovered the bodies of firefighters that had been lost in the rubble.

The recovery workers would load each body onto a fire truck and then circle the block with its lights flashing.

“When we got there it felt like we were literally going into a funeral home at times knowing that this grief was still raw for them,” said Cathy Martin, a volunteer from Holy Comforter.

Some of the recovery workers lived there, sleeping in the chapel. The majority of the workers they met had been there since Day 1. Sometimes they would come in with a “thousand-yard stare,” Taylor recalled.

“There was no advice I could give,” the rever­end said. “They just wanted you to listen.”

In addition to listening, they cooked grits and scrambled eggs for the recovery workers. Others, including masseurs, chiropractors and musicians, volunteered at the chapel, all attempting to relieve the recovery workers.

“Being Southerners, what we did was hug,” Taylor said.

The emotional loss extended past ground zero into the rest of the city. Pictures of the “missing” were still plastered on the walls of Grand Central Station.

“Three thousand is just a number,” Martin said of those lost in the attacks. “But when you walk and see picture after picture you begin to really get a sense of it.”

Leaving was difficult. The team had developed an emotional bond with the solemn, dust-covered faces that came through the doors of the chapel every day. After returning, the team created a banner that read “Good hugs, good grits. We love serving you” to join the letters and banners from across the country already wallpapering the walls of the chapel.

When Taylor and Martin returned to the city two years later, the women found their banner hanging on the walls of the chapel, which has become a permanent display to the events of 9/11.

This year, she returns to New York to attend a service Sept. 10 honoring the volunteers she met during the few days she and her team spent at ground zero.

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