Sweetness in the Midst of Sorrow

I wanted to share the opening of this story by Alison Thompson of Miami from the February 2012 issue of Guideposts because it demonstrates that gentle sweetness and quiet beauty can exist even in the midst of chaos and horror. I believe that experiences like this are what Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis had in mind when he said, “You’ve got to look hard for the sparks of divinity in the ashes of atrocity.”


Alison Thompson

That morning I zoomed through another set of red lights on my Rollerblades, heading downtown in Manhattan. I had a pretty hefty first-aid kit and a small bottle of perfume in my backpack.

People streamed toward me, disoriented, their hair and clothes covered in soot, holding cell phones, trying to get a signal. I pushed forward. Soon I was alone in a blizzard of ash. The ground rumbled, and I dove under a UPS truck for cover.

The second tower of the World Trade Center had just collapsed.

I grew up in Australia, my dad a preacher, my mum a nurse. I had been a nurse’s aide at Mum’s hospital in my teens. More recently in New York I’d been a freelance filmmaker. That day, September 11, 2001, I skated downtown, thinking that I could help somehow.

Without really knowing it, I had also skated into a new role: passionate volunteer.

In the sooty darkness I said a prayer asking God for strength. I darted out from under the UPS truck. I took a whiff of perfume to ward off the stench of smoke then made my way into a store and commandeered a pair of flip-flops from a dazed employee. “I need those,” I said.

Like other volunteers, I started going through the rubble, searching for survivors, but I quickly realized that I wasn’t as well-equipped as the firefighters and ironworkers. Eventually I partnered with an EMT named Mike.

The people who really needed our help were the rescue workers themselves. At the very least we could clean their eyes of dust and ash.

We set up shop in an abandoned bar called St. Charlie’s. We spray-painted a sign out front that read, “Ground Zero First Aid Station.” Our job was to do all we could for those on the front lines in the smoldering rubble.

I remember the firemen bringing us an ironworker who was crazed with exhaustion. He didn’t want to stop working but he could barely stand up. I held his hand and smoothed his hair until he finally fell into a gentle sleep. I wasn’t a doctor or nurse, but this was what I could give, that touch of love necessary in a crisis.

That’s what volunteering is about. Giving your love in a place that desperately needs it. I learned at Ground Zero that I had skills I never knew I had, skills that could make a difference. I could organize, give hugs, pass out water, bandage wounds, clean faces, hold hands, bring hope, pray.

I’m not rich, I’m not affiliated with a big organization, but volunteering has become my full-time job. More than that, it’s my calling. It has changed my life. The beauty of it is that anyone can do it.

Click here to view all the Guideposts stories on this blog.


Phil is the author of Through God’s Eyes: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Troubled World, a comprehensive guide to living a spiritual life. Who will benefit from reading it?

Anyone who is on a spiritual path, or wants to start one
Anyone who loves life, or wants to learn how to
Anyone who is happy, or wants to be happier

To order your copy of Through God’s Eyes, go to GodsEyesOrder.com OR order from Amazon at GodsEyesAmazon.com OR for an inscribed copy, click here to e-mail Phil for information.

Click here for more information about Through God’s Eyes.
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Through God’s Eyes won first place in the “Spirituality and Inspirational” category at the San Diego Book Awards on June 22, 2013.

Here is a two-minute video introduction to Through God’s Eyes.

Want to learn more about Through God’s Eyes? Here is a free 40-page PDF sampler from the book that includes:

• an overview of the book
• the complete table of contents
• the Foreword by Caroline Myss
• my Introduction
• chapter excerpts
• a sample end-of-chapter story
• endorsements from authors and thought leaders

Just click on the link below to download your free PDF sampler!


Phil’s eBook, The Logic of Living a Spiritual Life: Supporting a Life of Faith Through Logic and Reason, is now available for 99 cents on Amazon.

Order it at GodIsLogical.com.

In this eBook, you’ll find answers to questions like:
• What is the cornerstone of a spiritual life, and why?
• What is the secret to liberating yourself from other people’s judgments and expectations?
• Why is there an exception to “Everything happens for a reason”?

Those who worship logic instead of God are only half right. Not only is it logical to believe in God and to live a faith-based life, the existence of a loving, benevolent God that governs all creation is perhaps the only systematic worldview that explains every aspect of life.

Schedule a Mastery Mentoring phone session with Phil to learn how to apply principles of spiritual living more effortlessly and effectively. Priced affordably! Click here to e-mail Phil for details.

SiSe_fullcover_final.inddPhil is also the author of Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything, a collection of 45 inspiring, life-changing stories from prominent people he interviewed, including Joan Borysenko, Deepak Chopra, geneticist Dr. Francis Collins, acclaimed sportswriter Frank Deford, Dr. Larry Dossey, Wayne Dyer, Dan Millman, Caroline Myss, Dr. Christiane Northrup, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, Dr. Bernie Siegel, James Van Praagh, singer Billy Vera, Doreen Virtue, Neale Donald Walsch, and bassist Victor Wooten.

Here is a three-minute video that introduces you to Phil and his book. Click here to order Sixty Seconds. Click here to ask Phil to add you to his e-mail list for updates on his blog and books.

Reading this book is like spending a few minutes face to face with each of the contributors and listening to their personal stories. Click here to read unsolicited testimonials from readers. Learn more by visiting the official Sixty Seconds website.

Sixty Seconds was one of three finalists in the General Interest/How-To category at the 12th annual Visionary Awards presented by COVR (Coalition of Visionary Resources) in Denver on June 27, 2009.

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2 Responses to “Sweetness in the Midst of Sorrow”

  1. Kim Says:

    The beauty of volunteering is that you go into it to help others … what ends up happening though is that you receive so much more than you give.

  2. Phil Bolsta Says:

    Yes, that’s a nice surprise to those who volunteer, Kim!

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