Touched by Heroes
100 yards from Pentagon Ground Zero
with the Massage Therapy Strike Team
by Margot Gerrity
The blackened impact site on the Pentagon hung like a sinister moon when I entered the FBI chaplains tent on September 21. I had come 100 yards from Ground Zero with the new Virginia Office of Emergency Medical Services Massage Therapy Strike Team. Our job was to massage the weary heroes who were working to return the remains of the fallen to their families.
Walking through the checkpoint, wed stepped onto another planet. I found myself wondering what was going on in the world, and I suddenly realized that many of the crucial decisions were being made within a stones throw of where I was working.
After three hours on shift, I was seeing a steady flow of people needing relief. It was comforting to have work to do here in this place, where 189 people lost their lives to terrorism. Each person in my chair kept me too busy to focus on the situation, replacing the
grief of so many with the needs of just one.
I listened intently to my clients, visually assessing them, trying to judge whether they were in more distress than they were claiming. I checked to see if they were staying hydrated, if theyd eaten, when they last called their families.
Men and women in fatigues, police uniforms, fire fighting gear, ATF, FAA, FBI, FEMA or OSI T-shirts came into the tent to receive seated massage. A few were somber and tense, others were in a hurry and some just seemed to be on their lunch break from a normal day at the office. A few, coming in groups, actually roughhoused a bit, coming up behind the massage therapist and helping to massage a friend. They laughed and joked, comrades in arms working toward a common cause.
As each settled into the chair, I worked the stiff neck, tight shoulders or sore lower back that brought him or her to me. I saw each one relax, trusting to my willing hands. I found the knots, some of them bigger than golf balls, applying deep pressure while encouraging deep breaths. This was when these courageous recovery workers started to unwind, inhaling the September air in huge draughts.
It smelled heavily of char there outside the inner perimeter of the Pentagon, but to the men and women from the inside, it was a breath of fresh air. They were spending 12 hours of every 24 in the interior of the unstable structure, searching the ruins for the remains of the men, women and children so brutally murdered.
No matter what tasks these brave people had undertaken, each left my chair with a smile of relief. They all told me how much they appreciated that we were here. I told them how much it meant to me to get to be here to help, and how much Americans everywhere wished they could be here to help, too.
As much as I felt myself an alien on a strange world, these brave men and women were even more keenly aware that Id come from another space. To them, I was contact with the outside world, and I tried to let them know how the American people stood behind them.
Weeks later, safely at home, I think back on the selfless, devoted men and women I met and worked on. Their faces crowd my memory, creased in tired but relieved smiles after their massages. I remember their appreciation and encouragement, and I feel grateful for the precious gift I have received.
Margot Gerrity reflects from Mayo, where Right Touch Therapies, her massage therapy practice, is based.