Angels, guardian angels

Guardian in The Tower

It started as an ordinary day for Genelle Guzman, a then twenty-nine-year-old nine-year-old administrative assistant for the New York Port Authority. For the past nine months, she had been working at a computer on the sixty-fourth floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center. She would have liked a more stimulating job, but,born and raised in Trinidad, Genelle was in the United States on a nonimmigrant visitor’s visa, which had expired. This certainly limited her job choices; if anyone found out, she could be deported. Genelle was the youngest daughter of thirteen children, three of whom had died as babies. The family was poor, and her father was strict, and by the time Genelle was eighteen, she had left home to work in Port of Spain, the capital city of Trinidad. “I wanted independence,” pendence,” she explains. Although Genelle is naturally shy, there was something about the nightlife there that made her feel confident and alive, and she even became a “party girl.”

Later, Genelle gave birth to a baby daughter, Kimberly. In 1998, more adventure beckoned, oned, and Genelle gave custody of Kimberly to the baby’s father and moved to New York. She had relatives there, and she would live with a sister in Queens while she looked for a job. However, the shabby neighborhood and the noise of the city disturbed her, and soon she returned to Trinidad. A short time later, Genelle’s mother died of ovarian cancer. “I had always said I believed in God, but when Mom died, I wondered where he was.” Genelle was angry with the God she barely knew, wondering why her mother, so faithful to him, had had such a difficult life. Eventually, though, anger turned to indifference. Religion seemed superfluous, even an impediment to the life Genelle was now living. She resumed her “party girl” lifestyle and was often out until dawn.Genelle met Roger McMillan at a carnival in Trinidad, and it was instant attraction. She went back to New York in 1999 to pursue sue a relationship with him, and they lived together in Brooklyn. They assumed they would marry eventually, but as Genelle says, “I was still busy partying. I didn’t want too much pressure on my relationship.” Genelle was aware, however, that her lifestyle was missing something indefinable but vital. Twice she and Roger had attended services at the Brooklyn Tabernacle, an evangelical congregation. Genelle was intrigued by one of the lessons, which emphasized “If you let God lead you, he will.” What would that be like? To stop searching and just follow the lead of someone who loved you more than anything? This God had taken her mother away, though, and to join Brooklyn Tabernacle, she and Roger would have to change the way they lived. She decided that change wasn’t worth the price. Neither she nor Roger had joined the congregation.

One morning at work, as she booted up her computer, Genelle stuck her head into a few cubicles to greet some of her coworkers. One of them, Susan, admired Genelle’s gold braids, which Genelle and some of her cousins had done that Saturday. Just as Susan turned away to answer the phone, everyone in the office heard a loud hang, and the building shook. “What was that?” Genelle murmured as she hurried to the window. Stunned,she watched as bits and pieces of paper and debris fell through the air. The fire alarm rang, and a moment later the public-address system announced that an airplane had hit the upper floors and that people should stay put and not panic. Everyone was stunned. What kind of plane? How? Most ignored the instructions, grabbed their belongings, and fled. In a moment, just fifteen employees were left.

Again there was an announcement that those in the building should stay where they were. Another friend of Genelle’s, Rosa, had just phoned her sister, and Genelle followed suit. She left a message on Roger’s answering machine: “Honey, I’m staying in the building. I guess we have to wait until someone comes to get us out. I love you.” She also phoned her cousins. They were bordering on hysteria. “Get out of there! Leave now!” they told her, describing the scene on television. But the stairwells were filled with smoke, and the elevators had stopped. How could she get out alone?

Meanwhile, firefighters had arrived at the base of the north tower, their hoses putting out flames on some of the people who were exiting. Crews headed into the building and a moment later heard the sounds of a second plane approaching. Within seconds, that plane hit the south tower. Thousands of people were trapped, but the firefighters were ordered out of both unstable buildings. Most of them turned back.On the sixty-fourth floor, Genelle and her fourteen colleagues also heard the second crash. The ceiling shook, the air around them was getting hot, and smoke seeped ominously under the closed doors. “That’s it!” one of the men shouted. “We’re walking down!” Rosa and Genelle grabbed each other’s hands and followed the group to stairway B. It was less smoky than they had anticipated, and a wave of optimism filled them. Genelle phoned her cousin again and then Roger. This time he answered. He was waiting on a corner just a few blocks away, hoping that Genelle had managed to get out. “I’ll meet you there!” he told her. “Hurry!”

It was just ten o’clock in the morning, more than an hour since the first plane had struck.At first the trek went well. Rosa and Genelle clung to each other, and by the fortieth floor, when they met some firefighters taking a break, their confidence grew. On the thirtieth floor another rescue worker reassured them that they would be fine. (These men either had not heard or had not heeded the order to retreat and would die in the building’s collapse.) Genelle recalls counting the flights of stairs with Rosa: “Twenty, nineteen, eighteen. I was wearing a new pair of high-heeled shoes and my feet hurt. When we reached the next landing, I stopped to take my shoes off.” Just then there was a roar-like a locomotive coming straight at them. The floor shifted, and part of a wall fell toward Rosa and Genelle,separating the women from each other. Dust filled the air, steel beams crashed, and cement was pulverized as people hurtled down flights of stairs. Then the lights went out. An eerie calm descended. Genelle, attempting to crawl downward, had been trapped by falling chunks of cement. Now her head was pinned between two concrete pillars, her arms above her head, her legs under debris. “Help!” she cried out. “Is anyone there? Rosa?” No one answered. Genelle did not know it, but her building had collapsed and she had been the only survivor in this area. Slowly, Genelle took stock. “My right leg was buried up to the thigh in rubble, and my toes were numb.” Perhaps worse was the worry over what had happened outside. Had New York City been hit by a bomb? Were her loved ones alive? Would she die here, never being able to tell them that she loved them? As panic edged closer, she closed her eyes. For the first time in many years, she thought about God. She hadn’t been a very faithful daughter of his, she knew. But from what she remembered from her mother’s faith, she wasn’t alone in this terrible place. God knew where she was-and and he was here too. She began to pray.

Time passed; as the dust settled, Genelle saw a thin shaft of light somewhere ahead. Was that an exit? If so, where were the rescue workers? How would anyone find her if they didn’t check this area? She heard nothing. As the light slowly faded, Genelle prepared to spend the night in complete darkness. She pleaded to God for him to stay by her side. Genelle couldn’t know that the scene somewhere above her was one of pandemonium. Smoke billowed from the pile of rubble that was once the World Trade Center; gigantic beams lay everywhere, and sirens screamed. Shocked and bleeding people wandered aimlessly, while others ran for their lives. “There was a sense of crazed panic, people fighting to save lives, firehoses cascading all over the place,” said one eye witness. Thousands of people remained missing.Genelle was one of them.Eventually, in the collapsed stairwell, the little ray of light returned, and Genelle knew morning had arrived.

Drifting in and out of consciousness, she also knew that her life was ebbing away. “All feeling in my right leg was gone now, and I didn’t think I could go too much longer without water.” Still, she sensed the presence of Someone who truly cared about her. “God,” she prayed, “please send me a sign that I’m going to get out of here. Or that if I don’t, you’ll be there to meet me.” Suddenly-was it true?-Genelle heard a muffled sound. “Hello!” she cried out, her voice hoarse and raspy from the dust. “Is anyone there?” There was movement, as if other people had entered the area. “I’m here!” she cried. “Can you hear me?” No one answered. Genelle’s hand was still stuck above her head, but maybe she could attract some attention. Frustrated, she tried to wave, and suddenly denly she felt someone take hold of her hand, holding it in a warm and reassuring grip. “You’re going to get out of here,” a male voice told her. “Don’t be afraid.” “Oh, thank God!” Genelle could hardly believe it. “Where did you come from? What’s your name?” “I’m Paul,” the gentle voice answered. “I’m just ahead of the rescue team. They’re coming to get you. I’ll stay here with you.” Holding on as hard as she could,Genelle tried to open her eyes so she could see Paul’s face. “But for some reason, my eyes just wouldn’t open.” However, Paul was right-soon she could hear men’s voices. “I’m shining a light down,” someone called. “Can you see it?” “No!” she called back, still unable to see anything. She used one hand to knock the staircase above her with a piece of concrete.

The rescuers were definitely getting closer, but whenever they moved wreckage, fear surged through her-would there he another collapse? lapse? Paul seemed to know how she felt and would give her other hand a squeeze. Sensing her terror, he soothingly told her more than once:”It’s going to take a while, but I will stay with you. You’re going to be fine.” An eternity passed, and finally she heard two firemen above her, digging debris away from her leg, calling for others to send down a stretcher. “We’ve got her!” one shouted. As they reached her, in the confusion and joy of the moment, Genelle let go of Paul’s hand, letting the others lift her onto the stretcher. It was 12:30…She had spent twenty-six hours buried underground, and she would be the last survivor pulled from the wreckage.

Crowds cheered as she was carried to an ambulance. “I noticed that it was a sunny day, and I could open my eyes now. I wondered why I had not been able to open them and look at Paul.” She had not seen him yet and didn’t want to forget his name. When Roger arrived at the hospital, the very first thing she told him was to write it down. She would never be able to repay Paul for the care and comfort he brought to her during this terrible time, but she would try. Roger had assumed he was being summoned to the hospital to identify Genelle’s body. When he realized that he had not lost her after all, he suggested (through tears) that they get married. Genelle agreed. She had been given a new chance at life, she told him, and this time she would do it God’s way.

Since then, Genelle has faced many challenges. She endured several surgeries on her crushed right leg (however, she no longer needs a leg brace, despite the medical prognosis that she would always use one). Psychologically, Genelle may not have completely worked through her fear and loss yet, but she is not depressed. Her legal problems lems have ended; the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has decided not to prosecute illegal immigrants who were victims of this attack against America. Genelle is now a wife and a faithful member of the Brooklyn Tabernacle-she was baptized there shortly after she and Roger married. She is remarkably humble, quick to point out that she is not anyone special, just a child who has given her life to God-and she knows that this commitment does not mean a perfect life but one brimming with the “peace that passes all understanding.” She does not believe that her rescue was about luck. “It’s about God having a plan. And he will reveal it to me someday.”

Only one loose end remains. At Christmas time, some of the firemen men who rescued her came to visit her at home. She thanked them all, and then asked which one was Paul. “Paul?” the men looked at one another. “Paul,” Genelle said. “The one who found me first, the one who held my hand. He was just ahead of the rescue team.” The men shuffled and shook their heads. They knew every member of that squad, all the firemen who were currently searching ing for survivors. There was no one named Paul in any of those groups, and there had definitely been no one ahead of them when they rescued her. Genelle believes that God did indeed send her a sign that all would be well, a sign in the form of an angel. For that reason, she is determined to make the most of her life and to regard it as a gift. “Those hours in the building turned out to be a wake-up call so I could get my life in order. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

~Source:”In the arms of Angels”

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