I could feel him shaking, he was freezing and wet.
He leaned against me. His shoulders heaved. He was struggling for control. That’s what I was doing at 7:30 Sunday morning. Trying to console a 25 year old man who had to standby and watch everything he has worked for burn. I held him, my left arm around his shoulder, my right behind his neck trying to calm him. It was automatic. He could be my son. His name was Manuel.
There were 19 people displaced this morning from their homes on Cedar St. in Sleepy Hollow. A mother clutching a three month old child wrapped in blankets against the cold. Her husband close by. I knew what he was thinking. He was frightened. Frozen in time. Hoping this was all a nightmare. He asked me if he could get his wallet. All his working papers, drivers license. Everything to prove that he had a right to work and live his life in America, gone.
He fears now he is suspect. He is so vulnerable.
Slowly, the crowd thinned out. Woken by the sirens and smoke. Nothing left to see but the broken lives of innocent people. Our clients to care for and help rebound.
We were there for them. Four very cold, caring American Red Cross volunteers, Monica, Fran, Gina and I. We did not leave until we knew everyone had someplace warm to sleep and some dry clothes on their back. It’s what we do. We give hope. My dear colleague Fran told me that as Manuel was leaving using his new English skills, he said, “You are the light in the dark.”
March is American Red Cross month. When anyone asks what we do. Please tell them.
Ed Merians is Chairman of the Board of American Red Cross in Westchester, and the founder of theLoop’s Nourish Your Neighbor