A Decade of Hope: Stories of Grief and Endurance from 9/11 Families and Friends
We are approaching the 10th anniversary of the shocking, traumatic and unforgettable events of September 11, 2001. This is a book to remind and to commemorate. Its author is a former firefighter who lives in New York City and has written other books on the same subject, such as REPORT FROM GROUND ZERO and REPORT FROM ENGINE CO. 82.
"In A DECADE OF HOPE, Dennis Smith lets families of 9/11 victims tell their own stories."
In A DECADE OF HOPE, Dennis Smith lets families of 9/11 victims tell their own stories. The individual backgrounds of those cited are varied --- a young Muslim man trained as an EMT who voluntarily went to the site to help; the pilot of the plane that hit the Pentagon; a college student doing her internship with a corporation housed in the World Trade Center; and many firefighters on the job that day. Smith has chosen well. The victims described by their relatives were admirable people who strove for excellence in their lives. Perhaps this is a general characteristic of men and women who choose to work in direct public service, putting their lives on the line at all times, and maybe one learns more about an ordinary person’s good deeds after he or she has passed on.
There was an expectation that firefighters and police would do what they did on 9/11: go into burning buildings to rescue anyone who might be stranded there. But as this memoir so vividly reveals, no one realized at the time the horrific extent of the damage, that these were not merely “burning buildings.” Osama bin Laden had selected his targets with care, but even he might not have known what destruction would be unleashed when the World Trade Center towers were disabled. It was a death sentence for anyone in the buildings; only strange chance occurrences saved a few lives.
And, as one story states, the bodies were not partially destroyed or badly burned but possibly recognizable as in many fires; they were rendered into dust, never to be recovered. Many of the relatives recount that finding some body part of their loved one brought comfort, because they were aware that most bodies were never found. With “79 pounds” of body remains, a Filipino man was able to have a final ceremony for his wife who had worked in one of the towers, to scatter her ashes in a place she loved, to experience some sense of closure, and later, to create a revitalized town out of a slum in her home country as a memorial.
Many of the victims’ families have dedicated themselves to the causes surrounding the tragedy. These activities range from lobbying for the families, planning the memorial, and working as volunteers for the 9/11 Tribute Center. One couple set up a school fund in their daughter’s name. Nearly all spent enormous emotional energy after the event going to many funerals, honoring police and firefighters, or those who worked for the same corporation as their loved one. Such services, especially for firefighters, were packed. Some found great comfort in religion --- one man remembers the honor of getting to meet Pope John Paul II --- while others mistrust religion since the tragedy.
Each story concludes with reflections on how each family member regards the events now with the perspective of time. There are a few who are critical of how the city handled the rescue and rebuilding operations, and there are inevitably negative comments about the proposed mosque next to the 9/11 memorial. There is a strong bond among the families of firefighters and police, and a sense that their lost loved ones were heroic, yet doing the job they were paid to do every day. Nearly all of the survivors express bitterness and anger towards jihadists and often towards Islam in general, and some believe that America is doomed to experience another 9/11 if the government and people of our country don’t remain alert to the dynamics of the event. Most state that we should be proud of our country, not apologetic, and remember that those who died were innocent Americans doing their jobs, often displaying unbelievable courage and generosity in trying to help others.
One man remembers that on that fateful day while searching for his own son, he suddenly realized that everywhere “guys were looking for their fathers, and fathers were looking for their sons…” When asked how he now feels about the events of 9/11, he responds, “Some days it feels like it was twenty years ago, like it was such a long time ago. Some days it feels like it’s September 12, 2001. Some days it feels like I am still right there.”
Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on September 8, 2011