Last night was book club, and the most fun night I have had in weeks. Book club is always a highlight of my month, the last one was “Before”, on March 5th. Last night’s book club was virtual, since we are “During,” and it was a smart, stimulating, emotional evening spent discussing The Only Plane in the Sky, written by Garrett Graff (an amazing thinker, historian, and friend) who was with us virtually.
For those of you who have not read it, The Only Plane in the Sky is a gut-wrenching, tear-inducing, oral history of 9/11. We picked this book to read, and this date to meet in early 2020, and I must admit the timing seems uncanny. Reading about 9/11 during the COVID-19 global pandemic was both maddening and reassuring.
This is the time to read this book. Perhaps even the time to share its stories with children who did not live through the events of 9/11 and are of age to understand them. If you prefer to listen rather than to read, the book on tape version won the 2020 Audiobook of the Year Audie Award.
The most insightful moment of our evening was when Graff spoke about Will Jimeno. William J, “Will” Jimeno was a Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officer. He was trapped under the World Trade Center for over 12 hours and survived. Today, he spends time coaching and inspiring people include veterans and addicts, helping them work through their hardships. Graff reminded us that in effect, we all go through moments of “I feel like I am buried under the WTC” – whether due to the loss of a job, a bad breakup, the death of a loved one, a global pandemic, and everything in between.
While today, none of us are actually buried under the WTC, we may very well feel like we are. There is no hierarchy in pain, fear, loss, grief; these feelings cannot be compared or quantified, mine are neither graver nor lighter than yours – they are simply mine. We are each entitled to our own feelings, and should not add the guilt of “I shouldn’t be feeling bad right now because I have a roof on top of my head and food on the table” to the list of negative emotions swirling around in our head and hearts.
Rather, as Graff reminded us, we should focus on the fact that what defines us is not external events, but how we respond to them. This was my reminder to be resilient, graceful, kind (including with myself), patient (including with myself), and hopeful.
PS – for those of you not ready to start this book, but interested in reading about Graff’s perspective on what is happening right now, this article is a must-read.