Skip to main content

Chester County Press

Editorial: Our swirling watercolors of humanity

09/14/2021 01:35PM ● By Richard Gaw

Twenty years ago in New York City, on the morning of the worst single-day tragedy in United States' history, Doug Brown had just begun to make his descent through the smoky stairwells in Two World Trade Center in order to save his own life.

He did not expect that in minutes, he would also save the life of a complete stranger.

Moments before, the hijacked Flight 11 had crashed into floors 93 to 99 of One World Trade Center at 8:46 a.m., and at 9:03 a.m., hijacked Flight 175 struck floors 77 to 85 of Two World Trade Center, just above where Brown worked for Morgan Stanley on the 70th floor.

That morning, between 16,400 and 18,000 people were in the complex at the time the towers were struck. One of them was Silvion Ramsundar, an assistant vice president for Mizuho Capital Markets, who was returning to work on the 80th floor in an express elevator when the second plane hit Tower 2. In the elevator, Ramsundar saw a fireball of airplane fuel blaze over his head, and suddenly he was in complete darkness, with a fist-sized piece of airplane shrapnel now lodged inches from his heart. After leaving the elevator, he managed to climb down the stairs and collapsed in agonizing pain, and as he attempted to stop his bleeding – his lung had collapsed and one of his arms had broken -- Ramsundar found himself in the catacomb collision of death, rescue and survival. The fires from the plane's impact had intensified because of the jet fuel, and the steel support trusses in the building were beginning to sway. Men and women in business attire were being met by firefighters.

When he arrived at the 65th floor, Brown caught a glimpse of a man whose white shirt was covered in blood. He quickly took his handkerchief and held it at the site of Ramsundar's severe wound and kept it there like a compress, and with the help of his co-worker Stan Kapica, Brown carried Ramsundar down the remaining 65 flights of stairs in near darkness.

There is a photograph of Brown and Ramsundar taken by New York Daily News photographer Susan Watts just moments after they both reached safety. In it, the blue gloved hands of a medical aide gently touch Ramsundar's shoulders, as Ramsundar's eyes, shaken by terror and pain, stare blankly at the aide's words, as his once white shirt had turned crimson. Within the magnitude of the moment that made this photograph happen, there is nothing at all beautiful about the image, but it provides a stunning glimpse into what transpired that day and for many months afterward.

Brown remains at Ramsundar's side, just over his right shoulder, his eyes looking directly up at the burning tower that he and Ramsundar had just escaped from, which means that given a choice, Brown chose not to join the fleeing thousands in lower Manhattan that morning, but to help the wounded stranger whose life he had no doubt just saved.

Tower 2 came crashing to the ground at 9:59 a.m.

* * * *

In the aftermath of the devastation that the tornado from Hurricane Ida unleashed on the Wiltshire development in East Nottingham on Sept. 1, Michelle and Wayne Sapp emerged from their home and saw that save a few downed trees in their backyard, their home had escaped the damage of the storm.

Many of her neighbors, however, had not been blessed with the same good fortune; several of the neighborhood's homes had endured enough damage to render them unlivable. On the morning of Sept. 2, small armies of volunteers came out of their homes, armed with chain saws, leaf blowers, rakes, tractors, pick-up trucks and without fanfare, they began to forage through the remnants of the storm.

Beneath two tents and several tables arranged side by side, Michelle Sapp created a relief center that became a rest station for volunteers to quench their thirst with donated bottles of water or enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner that was served for the following few days.

Food and beverages came from everywhere. A neighbor donated ten pizzas. The Oxford football team was joined by their schoolmates in filling up trash bags with debris. Staff from Baer Electric donated some of their vehicles to assist in the clean-up. Even Rep. John Lawrence chipped in.

“It was truck after truck and after truck coming in to help,” Lawrence told a Chester County Press reporter.” It's fantastic to see so many people reach out to help during Oxford's hardship.”

“Over 100 volunteers came to the site of the devastation on Day 1,” said Christine Grove, executive director of the Oxford Area Chamber of Commerce. “We were happy to make some connections for equipment and volunteers to spread the word. This is what living in a small town is all about.”

* * * *

When Doug Brown fixed his eyes for the first time on Silvion Ramsundar lying in a pool of his own blood on the 65th floor of Tower 2 on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he did not consider whether he was going to help him based on a quick assessment of Ramsundar's social standing or religious affiliation.

All he saw was the still gaze of a bleeding man without hope.

When Michelle Sapp twisted the two blue tents into working order and set up a triage and food and beverage court for those who lent a hand to their fellow Oxfordians two weeks ago, neither she – nor any of the other volunteers – chose to provide assistance only to those homeowners who vote the way they do or pray they same way they do.

All they saw were their neighbors' eyes, hollow and forlorn, sifting through haphazardly stacked piles of wood where a part of their home had once been.

Whether it is a city of eight million souls or a small town in southern Chester County, tragedy is colorless and its response both intuitive and reactive and without conscience. In tragedy, we are not liberals or conservatives or Democrats or Republicans or Catholics or Jews or Atheists or pro-gun or pro-life or anti-vaxxers or anti-immigrationists.

In this skinny sliver of time, we are eyewitnesses plunging headlong into the swirling watercolors of humanity, pressing our handkerchiefs against the wounds of our brothers and sisters, and refusing to let go.