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A Christmas Thanks

BY SUSAN KIM | MORGANTON, NC | December 24, 2001

Amber wrote: "You are a

good person. You are a nice man." Courtney wrote: "Thank

you for helping the firefighters and letting them know

what to do."

And Gina simply wrote: "Wow. You could do that?"

Yes, Gina, Charlie Moeller could do that.

A Church World Service disaster resource facilitator,

Moeller visited Ground Zero in late September, where he

spent time with families and firefighters affected by

the Sept. 11 attacks.

He did what it takes many disaster responders years to

learn how to do: he simply listened.

Then he came home to Morganton, NC and tried to heal his

own spirit. He sent an e-mail to his friends and

colleagues describing his experience at Ground Zero:

"What I have seen in the last few weeks defies

description," he wrote. "I saw firemen on their hands

and knees digging with their hands in search of fellow

firefighters. I have never seen such personal agony by

so many in one place. If there is a hell on earth...it

is there."

Jody Hill, a Florida-based CWS disaster resource

specialist and close colleague of Moeller's, received

his e-mail and, in turn, forwarded it to her friends.

Hill, like Moeller, is affiliated with Lutheran Disaster

Response.

When Hill's stepdaughter, a North Carolina-based second-

grade teacher, read Moeller's e-mail, she called up her

stepmother and asked what her class could do.

"Well, thank-you notes to someone responding might be a

good idea," Hill suggested.

So the class picked Charlie Moeller -- a long-time

disaster responder and former firefighter. Moeller

already commands a high degree of respect and affection

from many in the national faith-based disaster response

community.

But that's nothing compared to a packet of warm thank-

you notes and drawings rendered by second-graders.

Moeller received them just in time for Christmas.

"I've just had my Christmas," Moeller said when he

opened the envelope. "My grandkids are going to have to

work pretty hard to beat this."

The teacher, Suzanne Shwedo, lives in Whispering Pines,

NC, a small community near Fort Bragg. Shwedo's husband,

a U.S. Army Green Beret, is deployed in the Middle East.

Moeller posted the drawings in his home. There is one of

Santa Claus in front of the twin towers. There is

another of the twin towers burning and firefighters at

work -- and butterflies are flying all around them.

There are drawings of flowers, sunshine, and happy

people. There is a Christmas tree with a teddy bear

under it. There are reindeer pulling a sleigh.

One has a firefighter standing next to a person saying,

"I wish everybody could have been saved."

When he looked at the drawings, Moeller said, "I'm not a

psychologist or anything like that but I did notice that

all of the characters are smiling."

The reaction of these children was one of optimism and

hope -- in a package sent straight to Moeller's heart.

"Their teacher did a good job of helping them through

the Sept. 11 attacks," he said.

"And because she did that, it made my day over and over."

Hill said she couldn't think of a better recipient for

the collective second-grade thanks. "Sometimes my job is

as much about providing venues for people to give as it

is about helping them solve a problem," she said.

Moeller said his visit to Ground Zero affected him more

than any disaster in his life. And he's seen many.

"Because I had been a firefighter, I made it a point to

talk to firemen," he said. "I have been involved in a

couple of fire death situations so I went up there with

this macho attitude of 'I can handle anything.' But it

was an absolutely shocking experience. And I wasn't

quite the strong guy I thought I was."

Moeller's e-mail said: "Please continue to pray for the

families and others involved. A visit to the family care

center will tear your heart out. This is where families

go in search for information concerning missing loved

ones. My concern is very great for the mental health

problems that will linger...probably for years to come."

Moeller was particularly moved by seeing his fellow

firefighters in pain.

"The New York firefighters can't be kept away as they

look for fellow firemen. The emotional toil on them is

awesome and they are truly an awesome bunch. I am

greatly concerned for the firefighters. How do you

really cope with losing so many fellow firefighters,

friends and then spend weeks...probably months searching

for them...?"

This Christmas, Moeller reads the notes again, and he

makes his own running commentary. "This one says 'Thank

you for helping people out of the twin towers.' Well...I

didn't help people out of the twin towers. I just talked

to the firefighters.

"Victoria wrote that I was very brave, and Clyayn wrote

'I want to say thanks because you are very special.' "

"And here's one that says 'I hope you can do it again.'

Oh, Lord, I hope -- not again."


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