Albert Mora could not believe the events that were unfolding before his very eyes.
Even 20 years later, Mora, who now resides in Central California, clearly recalls the bright, sunny morning as he walked to his work site in Brooklyn Heights, N.Y. Mora and his crew found they had a painfully clear view of the twin towers as they went up in flames.
"It felt like I was on an action movie set, but no director ever came out and yelled 'Cut!'" said Mora. "I saw for myself that everything can change in the blink of an eye."
Like so many, Mora was deeply shaken from witnessing such a tragedy. "I never felt such sadness," he said. "From my apartment, there was no way for me to escape seeing the pillars of smoke every day. For a month, we would wake up to the sight of smoke and the smell of burning."
Relief came from reaching out to others who were struggling as he was.
Mora has centered his life around assisting others through his volunteer work as one of Jehovah's Witnesses. "I love sharing my hope with my daughter, my wife, my family — all those around me. I try to provide comfort however I can. Helping others has helped me."
Helping others has long been linked to better emotional well-being in psychology research. The book "The Healing Power of Doing Good: The Health and Spiritual Benefits of Helping Others" describes "powerful" effects, even for helpers who've experienced trauma themselves.
Trauma was all too common among the many volunteers at ground zero. Roy Klingsporn, a Brooklynite who volunteered nearly every day for two months, recalled on one occasion approaching a man who sat slouched in a golf cart near the site's makeshift morgue.
"When I asked him how he was doing, he burst into tears," said Klingsporn, now of Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "He said, 'I'm tired of picking up body parts.'"
Within days of the attacks, Jehovah's Witnesses set up teams that spent hours each day in lower Manhattan, Bibles in hand, consoling everyone from the families of victims to first responders battling physical and emotional exhaustion. It was a work that changed how the organization approaches disasters, with an organized comfort ministry now being an integral part of its response to natural disasters and even the pandemic.
Recalling the gut-wrenching days he spent as one of those volunteers near the smoldering remains of the twin towers still stirs deep feelings in Robert Hendriks.
"It was very emotional and extremely difficult for me, but the faces of those I passed on the street said it all," said Hendriks, now U.S. spokesman for the Witnesses. "They needed comfort, and the best thing I could give them was a hug and a Scripture."
For Brown "Butch" Payne, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, tore open old wounds, bringing back vivid wartime memories the Vietnam veteran had tried to forget.
From his East Village apartment, Payne recalled the crowds of frantic people streaming north from lower Manhattan. "That sight stirred up a lot of emotions in me," he said. "It shook me to the core."
Payne found relief in rendering aid the best way he knew how. "Sharing the Bible's message of hope softened the blow for me," he said.
Offering a shoulder to cry on brought Klingsporn comfort too. "It was satisfying to be of help to my community," he said.
Mora admits, "Sometimes I start to look at the world and feel overwhelmed again by the pain and suffering everywhere. But what has helped me is to be there for others and share my reasons for hope."
Mora reads articles about dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety on jw.org. The practical suggestions and resources have been invaluable. "Many turn to overdrinking or drowning themselves in their work," he said. "It's so damaging." Mora appreciates how the Bible-based articles encourage people to be balanced while coping with life's difficulties.
Payne feels the same. In 2016, after 50 years of marriage, he lost his beloved wife to cancer. On days when his grief feels overwhelming, Payne writes heartfelt letters that lift his neighbors' spirits — and his own. He shares Scriptures and resources that have helped him, like articles on coping with trauma and loss on jw.org, the official website of Jehovah's Witnesses.
"Encouraging others to look to the future helps me to do the same," he said.
— Jehovah's Witnesses news release