One of the Most Important Books I Ever Taught

All of my students can and will tell you, 9/11 is my most haunted memory.

And yet, I was living just south of Richmond, Virginia when it happened. And the amount of people I knew who were directly affected by the tragedy was exactly…

zero.

None.

Nill.

Nada.

Null.

I can claim no ownership to the tragedy other than the horror experienced by watching the loops of recorded and televised images of the plane hitting the South Tower. The Pentagon on fire. The side of the Pentagon crashing downward. The collapse of both towers. The smoking pit of a farmer’s field now a mass grave for the heroic victims of Flight 93.

I craved understanding. I needed knowledge so that I could find a way out of the spiraling grief and confusion. I needed to know…something. Anything that could help me lay claim to the questions that couldn’t be answered because I, in no way, could understand how hatred could drive four passenger jets into human targets. But I had to find a way to grasp the humanity within the tragedy.

That answer arrived in the form of the book 102 Minutes by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. I found the book…probably on Amazon…on one of my unfulfillable quests for understanding.

I plowed through the book. And found not answers. But, in a way…peace. I read the stories of the men and women who fought to survive. So many of them lost their battles. But more. So many more did. They got out. They escaped the seventh circle of Hell into which they had been forced.

I read about the men and women who chose to enter into the seventh circle of Hell and pull out survivors or give peace to those who wouldn’t survive.

I learned about heroic names: Frank DeMartini. Father Mychal Judge. Kevin Pfeiffer. Orio Palmer. Pablo Ortiz. Moira Smith.

I read the stories of heroic survivors: Brian Clark. Stanley Praimnath. Dianne DeFontes.

After consuming the book on my own, I stared teaching it. I wrote my first grant request through donorschoose.org and was awarded my first class set of the books. Eventually, most disappeared. And through Amazon, I bought used copies. And many of those have disappeared as well. Because I kept on teaching the book.

Because the younger generations do not know the story of 9/11. They don’t know about four airplanes because Flight 93 has been written out of some history books already.

Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn artistically and beautifully and compassionately wrote about the tragedy of 9/11. They wrote about the people who tumbled from the buildings, who fell to their deaths in tragic, public view of the world that couldn’t look away. They documented that which we wanted to turn away from and try to unsee.

They gave voice to the now silent. Recordings on answering machines that don’t even exist anymore.

The dust settled in New York City. The fires extinguished. The caskets, so many of which were empty, buried and entombed. The names were carved on lengths of metal and the world moved forward.

And, because of 102 Minutes, in some way, I, too, moved forward. But not without continually looking back over my shoulder, at the long paths carved into my life because of my 9/11 experiences and memories and haunted need to learn.

Jim Dwyer passed this week. His (and Flynn’s) book ranks among those that have been the most pivotal reads in my life. Books like Elie Wiesel’s Night or Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone. Books like Arundhati Roy’s God of Small Things or Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns or Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Books that shook me out of my suburbia comfort zone that is wrapped in fleecy, warm pajamas.

I aspire to be a writer and teacher like Dwyer. I want to be more than just this dormant little writer-teacher-person sitting in her hexagonal office, listening to the muted bass notes of the passing traffic. I want to do more with my life than just be a passing note on the wind and then settle like a fleck of dust, be absorbed back into the Earth.

It’s not that I’m searching for or craving fame and fortune. But…I don’t know…it’s like I’m hearing that siren call once more. To go forth. To set my feet upon a proverbial road and be and exist and sound my barbaric yawp.

Because when I first read and then started teaching Dwyer and Flynn’s book, I had my purpose. I felt my being rise within me as I strove to truly teach, to truly offer knowledge to others. And seeing that Dwyer’s voice has stilled…

I don’t know.

Maybe it’s my turn to start speaking again….

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