911 Hugs


"Did you hear?" A co-worker asked, as he brushed past me and snatched up the phone on the desk in front of me.

"Hear what?" I asked him, tensing up just a little when I saw the look of concern on his face. My first thought was that he had heard a storm was on its way....maybe a tornado warning was out....

Troy finished dialing, and then, while waiting for his wife to answer the phone, he told me, "A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center."

Thus the morning began.........

and as it dragged on mercilessly, I began to wonder if it was ever going to end.....

Throughout a blur of hours, there were random relays as we employees were drawn irresistibly to the breakroom and its tv news coverage and then back to our individual departments to tend to our responsibilities. Thankfully, and understandably, there were not a great many customers.

It felt strange to me that people, including myself, were still working. Still we put one foot in front of the other; still we were able to function, or at least to go through the motions. Amazing.

It seemed strange, too, that some were shopping. During one of my relays, I came out of the breakroom to see a customer looking through a wallpaper book, and wondered how that was possible, in light of what was going on. Reminded once again that I had a job to do, I approached her and asked if there was anything I could help her with. When she looked up from the brightly colored pages, I could tell she had been crying. Her response was, "I came here to get away from the tv." I understood. We talked like friends. There was no mention of weather. Or prices. Or wallpaper. We actually shared a few minutes of meaningful conversation that included thoughts on the compassion we felt for those in the areas of the attacks...their and our loved ones...life....God. It was not your average customer/salesperson exchange. It was not your average day of average interests, or of average trivialities.

Later, a customer stood at the counter looking at samples of mini-blinds. I had just spent another couple of minutes in the breakroom, where several of us had stood in a cluster staring at the tv screen. Tears ran down my cheeks, but it didn't matter. No one noticed. We weren't looking at each other. The tv had our full attention. Exiting the breakroom, I walked over to the customer and asked her how she was doing today, just as if it were a regular Tuesday. She told me she had felt she needed to get out for a while, and thought this was a good place to go. She smiled and I smiled back. But then, because I had to tell someone, I said, "People are jumping out of windows," just as if that, too, were a normal thing to say. Our eyes locked and held. Horror. This could not be real. We talked. We had to.

I tried to help another customer choose what types of blinds she wanted for several windows. I showed her various samples, together we looked through them. We discussed options periodically, but were finding it increasingly difficult to stay off the subject of all we had been seeing and hearing on television. It soon became evident that our hearts were not totally into this particular activity of selecting window treatments. It also became obvious that I could not concentrate on the simplest math, as she and I compared prices. "I'm sorry," I told her. "I can't concentrate. It is hard to work today."

This middle-age customer, a stranger, looked at me and her eyes instantly brimmed with tears. As if surprised by her own thought, she said, "Then let's hug!"

There we stood in the middle of the decorating design department, we two women who had never seen each other before that day, embraced in a full-fledged bear hug.

During the unforgettably devastating circumstances of that particular day, I would never have dreamed that a hug could contain so much comfort.

It was a couple of days later that I heard President Bush say something that went straight to my heart and reminded me of that moment. He said, "...to share our grief and draw strength from one another."

There must be literally thousands of ways to do that, during this trying time. But how amazing that one of them is a simple hug.

Give hugs. God bless.

Alison Sweetpetes3@cs.com

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