Between Heaven and Ground Zero: One Woman's Struggle for Survival and Faith in the Ashes of 9/11
It's rare that I read a book that is so graphic in its depiction of horror that I feel like I need to set it down and walk away for a while. Between Heaven and GROUND ZERO is such a book. In it, Leslie Haskin, an insurance company executive, pulls no punches in recounting her harrowing escape from the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
"More than anything, I wish I could speak of joy that came through all of the suffering on that particular morning, but I cannot. There was none, " she writes. "However, in the greatest moments of desperation and overwhelming sorrow, God's loving and outstretched arms were waiting for my acceptance. I now know that His holy presence and peace called to me at every point of overwhelming despondency and paralyzing trepidation.
I know that the Lord walked with me through that concourse. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death...
He held me as my head turned about quickly and my eye scoped every inch of what remained. I will fear no evil.
It was another place entirely. It was surreal, like a 3-D movie; too gigantic and slow to participate in, yet too fast for retreat. I felt vulnerable and very mortal. For thou art with me.
Everything I saw broke my heart a little more. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me... Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the hour of the Lord for ever.
In a note to the reader and at the beginning of the book, Haskin acknowledges that her story is just one fragment of the mosaic of personal stories that make up the truth about what happened on 9/11. Her retelling is flawed insomuch as she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and the factual details of that day continue to be shrouded in a veil of pain. And yet, Haskin provides a brave and powerful testament to the horror perpetrated on 9/11 through her willing to tell us what she remembers, so that we, too, never forget.
The details of Leslie's descent from her top-floor office via a staircase after the planes hit the World Trade Center is like a vision of a descent into hell. Her vivid descriptions of the warped building and suffering people around her are harrowing and disturbing. Even after all the media and cultural attention paid to this event, I gained a new sense of what evil was perpetrated on 9/11.
But more than being a story of collapsed towers, Between Heaven and Ground Zero is the story of a woman undone in a moment of extreme suffering. Leslie freely admits to the pride and hubris she had cultivated and harbored as a result of her successful career. By the morning of 9/11, she had long since strayed from the Christian faith of her childhood, instead worshipping the gods of money and power. And of course, these gods proved fickle during the slow march to safety that started in her office and forced her to continue walking in fear and pain many months after the attacks.
In the years that followed 9/11, Leslie lost her job, her car and her home. Her bout with PTSD has been severe and required intense medication and therapy. Her life as she knew it lay in rubble not unlike Towers 1 and 2. But, very much unlike those towers, Leslie has been rebuilt and stands tall again --- not in her own strength, but in the steadfast love of God.
She writes, "And so I have learned that my life does not belong to me. I understand now how words exhale life, and I will never again hold my breath for so long a time as this. I have relearned to inhale and then to exhale, and as I breathe through Him, the Lord, that is, something wonderful happens --- distance. Space comes between my emotions and me, and it yields an unexpected but welcome gift --- faith. My world broadens until my vision lifts high above the 'soils of despair' and I am soaring. Hallelujah!!"
Reviewed by Lisa Ann Cockrel on August 1, 2006