The Newfoundland sealing disaster, the Southern Cross, the Caribou, the Ocean Ranger, et al.
Cougar Helicopters Flight 491.
Back in the terrible days following 9-11 in New York, several churches and organizations sent personnel to that city to help with the ensuing human crisis on the ground. Two of those sent from the Salvation Army in Newfoundland were from the Springdale corps.
The corps officer told a group of us later what happened on his first day.
He arrived at Ground Zero and began looking around to try and make himself useful, perhaps as a counsellor to grieving family members. But all he could see around him was a great mountain of smoking debris and a sea of human grief and desperate courage, almost impossible to comprehend. How could he hope to make a difference in the middle of that carnage?
And then he saw off to one side a fireman, dirty and begrimed by his efforts down in the pit, standing with his head bowed and his shoulders shaking. The officer realized that he was weeping.
He went over to the fireman, trying to find the right words that would somehow be some consolation in the midst of what was obviously for him a very personal catastrophe.
He put his hand on the other man's shoulder and opened his mouth to speak but nothing came. He could not think of a single word to say. Nothing that would comfort this firefighter after all he had seen, nothing that would help him go back down in the bowels of that disaster and carry on.
Finally, after standing there for several minutes, my friend the Salvation Army officer left, not having uttered a single word.
He wandered off by himself, feeling depressed and a complete failure.
Suddenly, he felt a hand on his arm. Standing by him was the fireman, now obviously in complete control of himself once more. Then he spoke.
"Thank you," he said, "for just putting your hand on my shoulder and saying nothing."
May I in all humility, and in light of the terrible tragedy that has beset our province in the past several days, suggest that each of you who grieve consider this column to be a hand upon your shoulder.
Ed Smith lives in Springdale. His e-mail address is email@example.com