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Time Well Spent

By Karen Fortner Granger
From Life Lessons for Women

CBN.comIt was incredibly cold outside.  The wind hurled through the south tip of Manhattan right through the site of the World Trade Center towers.  The once luminous buildings were no longer there to protect us from the bite of the bitter wind.  And I, a Floridian, well it seemed unbearable to me.  Inside my head, I repeated over and over again, I am so miserable.  I am so miserable.  I am so miserable.

We were clothed in heavy coats, hard hats, orange safety vests and lots of identification or “credentials”, as they say.  We were on a missions trip to Ground Zero — to serve and assist those working during the clean-up efforts after the attacks on September 11, 2001.  I looked to my right and saw some rescue workers raking in painstaking slow motion, looking for… well, you know.  And then reality hit, I don’t even know the meaning of miserable.  Those workers certainly do.

I continued making my way around the16-acre property, with my new friend, Mac — a volunteer chaplain for the NYPD.  We offered water and hot chocolate to the rescue workers in and around “the pit”.  I didn’t realize what a commodity hot chocolate and water could be.  Most of us in America can get a drink of water or hot chocolate anytime of day.  But these workers, in these conditions, could not just walk down the hall and get a much-needed drink during their grueling shifts on duty. 

We came upon a trailer labeled “morgue”.  Oh my goodness — just the word made me want to run the other way.  But something made me stop and knock on the door. The wind was blowing so hard, it hurt.  The dust and rubble churning through the air made it hard to breathe.  The door flew open.  I was afraid to see what was inside this building so I kept my eyes fixed on the woman answering the door and asked, “Would you like some hot chocolate?” 

“Hot chocolate!  You’re kidding,” she stated.  “I’d love some hot chocolate.”

“With marshmallows?” I asked.

“You even have marshmallows?”  She couldn’t believe it.

Her face lit up. Her name was Maryanne.

Later, I saw Maryanne taking a break in the basement of St. Peter’s Church — a refuge for rescue workers and our home for a week.  We chatted a bit.  The following night I ran into her again at dinnertime.  I was struck by the fact that this sweet lady with a gentle disposition works in a morgue.  Not any old morgue, but one right in the footprints of one of our countries most devastating war zones.  I didn’t want to think about what she’d seen over the last few months.

At the end of the week, I reported for my last official nightshift working at Ground Zero.  As I entered the basement of St. Peter’s Church, I noticed Maryanne sitting at a table.  Her face lit up when she saw me bounding down the steps.  She said, “I’ve been looking for you.”  So I approached the table.  “I’ve been looking for you,” she repeated.

“Me?  You’ve been looking for me?”  I didn’t really know her that well.  I wasn’t in charge of anything.  Just serving.  What could she possibly want from me?  

“You’ve been looking for me?”  I asked again.

“Oh yeah,” she shrugged her shoulders,  “I was just looking for ya.”

Silence.  I realized at that moment that Maryanne didn’t have anything to say to me.  No questions.  No comments.  Nothing.  She was “just looking for me.”  She just wanted to see a friendly face.  A smile.

Maryanne taught me an important life lesson that week at Ground Zero.  Often the greatest gift we can give someone is our time. Our presence can be quite a present, a very precious gift, indeed.

I haven’t seen Maryanne since that week. I wonder how she’s doing?  I wish I could spend some time with her again.  Working on the night shift at Ground Zero was the worst experience of my life—but the life lessons I learned in that pit will be treasures

I’ll carry with me forever.  It certainly was time well spent.

Originally appeared in Life Lessons for Women from the creators of Chicken Soup for the Soul, 2004 Health Communications, Inc. Karen Fortner Granger is a freelance publicist, speaker and writer.  She resides in South Florida with her husband, Eric.  Information on speaking topics can be found at

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