by Susan Halm
Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, USA
Tuesday, September 11th, 2001 dealt a stunning blow to the American psyche. For many of us, dazed and shocked, the urgent question we asked ourselves as we watched the carnage pouring out of our television sets was: “What can I do to help?”
Local and national news commentators urged us to respond to the Red Cross’s call for blood donations by participating in a blood drive. I have donated blood in the past, but nothing has approached the urgency I felt to donate this time. Tuesday night I told my husband, “We’ve got to go tomorrow.”
We equipped ourselves with books to read and snacks to munch while we waited, figuring the line might be, oh, maybe an hour or two. When we reached our local Charleston, South Carolina, Red Cross, we couldn’t believe it. At 11:00 a.m. the line stretched around the block.
It might be eight hours before we reached the head of the line — still, we walked to the end. And while we waited, I looked at the faces around me — and I saw the face of America.
I saw young and old, women with children, Generation-Xers in T-shirts and tattoos, veterans, people leaning on canes and in wheelchairs, waiting to give what they had to our country. No one was impatient, no one argued or pushed ahead of anyone. We had a purpose and a goal — so we waited.
As we stood, local television and radio stations came out. They hooked up speakers for us to listen to music and the news from New York and Washington. They brought us American flags donated by locals to wave and stickers to wear that read “AMERICA WILL PASS THIS TEST”.
Red Cross volunteers brought out food donated by local merchants: pizzas, McDonald’s cheeseburgers, sub sandwiches, delicious fried chicken, snack foods, fresh fruit, bottles of cold water and sodas. They fed us, answered our questions, and told us what to expect when we finally got to the head of the line. They thanked us for coming out and for our “sacrifice”.
One volunteer told us that television pictures of us waiting in line and giving blood were being transmitted to giant screens in the middle of the World Trade Center. He told us, “You don’t know how much good it does for these guys to see you here. They come out of the rubble, exhausted. Then they see you on the screen and they go back in.”
We were just Americans, doing what we do, finding another way to have fun, even in the midst of tragedy. We sang to the music from the speakers, and we laughed, because Americans are people who love to laugh. We made friends and discovered common ground with each other.
On a hot fall afternoon in Charleston, South Carolina, I saw the face of America. Our hearts are broken, but our spirit is roaring back. We have a common purpose and a common goal. We are once again the UNITED States.