The following short account is based on my experience as a volunteer for the American Red Cross of Southwest Texas, Odessa Chapter, in response to the September 11, 2001, World Trade Center terrorist attack.
During my assignment in October through November I volunteer an extra evening for a special presentation. Families of the attack victims are expressly invited to receive an urn and an American Flag. In some instances more than one urn is presented to a single family. It is now November 2001. Our daily tasks are on hold because of a special invitation in our building: a procession is to take place; a funeral procession that is. Trucks have arrived delivering boxes, cardboard boxes upon cardboard boxes are carted by hand pushed dollies into the cavernous building that is the Red Cross New York City Chapter Headquarters. The large boxes, like statues, are draped with American flags.
The wheels of the caissons click and clack on the sleeping floor as they spin round and round awakening the somber, lifting them into pure solemnity. The cadence of every step taken by the bearers orchestrate a refinement of respect. The bagpipes, in unison, open and rip every moment into a silent silence. The handsome trumpets, humming a salute, send every heartbeat into clusters of loyal noise, clamoring to thump their way out into the grieving air. The magical notes, sensing such reverence, turn every brave tear into a sea of wavering banners in mourning salute.
The time comes when families of the victims are to be presented with a hand~sized, purple felt- covered box as an urn. Each accompanied by an American flag. Each family, or individual family member is escorted to a booth for privacy so as not to interrupt any personal displays of emotions from the other booths. The City of New York has bequeathed the urns and flags as symbols of honor and respect; within each urn is a note of condolence to be read upon presentation. I choose to present the flag because there are no words to be spoken upon presentation. If l speak, I know I will choke on my own words; I will blind my eyes with tears I am not supposed to shed. Once properly bearing the flag in my hands, its colors beseech it’s symbolism of honor. The stars, the vibrant, white embroidered stars soothe their way out of the blue platform; my nervous fingers touch the red stripes to quell the noisome, flaming red cloth. I extend my hands with the folded flag and with unrehearsed words I relay a remembrance of the families’ loss. I convey condolences from my hometown and my home state of Texas and that quickly breaks any semblance of tension between the family and me. Like long-lost friends, we cast the moment with a short visit, embraces and a brief encounter of meaningful solitude and heartfelt mirrored-affection.