It’s been almost two months since my last post, but, I am still here. Although I’d been assigned to a number of locations in the Memorial Museum, many have passed without much ado. Here is a summary of some of the high points:
Groups/Concourse 1 – Few youth groups attend during the summer vacation stretch and my one assignment to groups was no exception, except that one never showed. When a volunteer presence isn’t required at the group entrance, we are to assist with the incoming visitors right after security check to direct them to wherever they want to go first, answer any and all questions and “sell” the next showing of Facing Crisis in the Auditorium. The two times I was at this position were very lively, and here’s where I actually was confronted with the most asked question – “where are the toilets?”
We are to welcome the guests as they arrive. I actually overheard a visitor sitting on the bench behind me say to her companion “Can you imagine having to smile and say ‘hello’ all day?”. Of course, that’s what they saw during the few minutes they stood there. We actually have some terrific conversations with guests telling us how much they’ve wanted to come here, where they were at the time, asking where we were at the time and which film is showing next in the Auditorium.
While this position is also referred to as “Crowd Control”, there never seemed to be occasions where this was strictly the case. Of course, there were some stragglers who couldn’t find the exit, or some guests waiting for their family/friends to some through the security check while waiting in the middle of the pathway to the exhibits, but no one ever complained about being asked to wait on the side. I did get a kick of the many men who still wear a belt, struggling to put it back on while walking – especially the (ahem) larger guys.
One experience, which I will never forget, did stand out. A small group of men, probably about 35 years old, approached me and asked if I spoke Polish. Now, I grew up in a Polish neighborhood and went to a Polish Catholic parochial school, so I still retained a little of the language I learned to say my prayers in. They were absolutely delighted! They even corrected whatever I said incorrectly. The men told me how it was their dream to come to America and to come to the Memorial before they went anyplace else in the States. I was quite moved and told them a bit about the Polish neighborhoods that still exist in NYC and upstate, as I remember them. But I was brought to tears when, as they left, each came to me with tears in his eyes telling me how much it meant to him to be able to visit the Memorial, thanking me for being here, and letting me know how so, so sorry they were that this happened to us here in the U.S. Thankfully, I was just about to leave for the day, but the memory of those men from Poland will stay with me any time I encounter any rudeness or indifference to the sensitivity, solemnity and beauty of this vast graveyard.
Auditorium- The other brief story I want to tell you about is one assignment upstairs by the Auditorium. As I posted before, the Visitor Service volunteer is sort of a ticket -taker-minus-tickets for the films shown in the Museum. That is, we have to count the number of people we let in at a time, make sure no one sits on the floor, keep the queue tidy, etc. Other than the Auditorium, the cafe and a number of tables and chairs are also ,located on the upper floor, the Atrium.
A couple of weeks ago, I noticed a young boy (I later found out that he was only 7 years old) sitting at a table with an elderly man who was obviously his granddad. The youngster was very well-behaved, and I could see them conversing – not very often, but quietly, with the boy nodding his head once in a while. I was really taken by this couple, especially as time went by and they still sat there. For me, at that age, it would have been interminable and I don’t know how I wouldn’t have fidgeted, stood up and walked around the floor, or do something rather than sit for such a long time.
As I came to the middle of my shift, I went over to talk to them. The young man was very happy when I told him that he was the coolest person I met that day, and how patient he was while his Dad drank his coffee. He smiled a little and told me that, no, that is his Grandpa. Of course, I knew this, I just wanted to see their reaction.
I’ll digress for minute here. I usually carry a card with pins showing the “Dogs of 9/11” that are sold in the Museum Gift Shop. I became very interested in these wonderful canines and read more than one book about them and service dogs of other disasters in the U.S. .When I see a particularity well-behaved child or one who asks questions about the artifact he or she is looking at, I’ll tell the child about the rescue dogs and give the him or her a pin. I will let the child choose which one to have. It didn’t take any time at all to know who today’s only recipient would be.
Back to the young man and his Grandpa. I started to tell him of the dogs that helped in the recovery efforts at Ground Zero and other places. Only one, Sirius, actually perished, because he was left in the Security Office while his handler, a first responder, went to see what the explosion was. Before the handler could returned, the South Tower had collapsed and Sirius was lost in the rubble. When his remains were finally recovered several days later, Sirius was given the same honor cortege as the human first responders. His is the top left pin in the photo. Since I had the entire card left, I offered it to the boy. He hesitated, looked up at me with these EYES, then at his Grandpa, and asked how much it would be! I could not believe this. I explained that it was a gift from me. Then his Grandpa asked if I would get into any trouble if I gave it away. I explained that I buy them myself to present to especially nice young children. The boy’s eyes opened even wider as he took the card, gave me his thanks and pinned the pin of Sirius on the 0/11 memorial baseball cap he wore.
As the afternoon wore on a little more, and the queues for the film diminished, The boy came over to me to show me that he decided to put all four pins on his cap. Another queue, another quiet time and he came over again. This time, he read to me from the back of the card about Sirius, the explosive detector canine, and then, about Annie, Skye and Joey, all from the back. When he finished, he told me how proud he would be to show these pins at school because last year a local firefighter and his explosive detection canine visited his school and now he can tell the class the story of Sirius and the other dogs.
This was one of the moments that make the volunteering so fulfilling and floods my very heart with unbound joy.