On the day Bin Laden was killed, the picture that has remained in my memory was of Americans cheering and partying across the country. It haunted me, and I kept wondering how this reaction was different from the blood-curdling image of Middle Eastern Muslims cheering and dancing in the streets when the two hijacked planes brought down the World Trade Center.
Among those cheering at the demise of Bin Laden were professed Christians, and I couldn’t help wondering where Jesus’ mandate to “love those who hate you and pray for those who despitefully use you” figured into a reaction that seemed to go way beyond a sense of justice served.
This quandary was still in my mind when into my hands fell an advance copy of a delightful book called Thunder Dog with the subtitle: The True Story of A Blind Man, His Guide Dog & the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero. Of course, I expected the book to be the story of the harrowing experience of a blind man and his seeing-eye dog caught somewhere in one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center when the planes hit. But I was in for much more than that!
I was to walk with this top-level sales executive and his partner step by step (literally! down the 1,463 stairs) from the 78th floor, guided by a steel-nerved seeing-eye dog. Following them were staff members, assistants and others who, inspired by the calmness and good humor of a man without sight, summoned the courage to stay focused, work together and endure to safety. This fascinating first-person account filled in the details of the terror we all watched unfolding on our TVs that fateful day.
Alternating with this amazing happening, the author tells a parallel story of his journey in life from his premature birth and the incubator exposure to pure oxygen that destroyed his eyes (as happened to many other children until this procedure was discontinued by the medical community) through his early life and education to the job as regional sales manager and head of New York operations for Quantum/ATL data tech company that put him in his office on the 78th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
Perhaps it is the story of Michael Hingson’s life that turns out to be a boot camp for courage and forgiveness, the qualities that so impressed me with the book. If anyone had an excuse to be bitter, it was Hingson. Yet he was able to leave the reader with sentences like these:
We can’t let fear paralyze us. We must carry on. The best way we can honor those we lost in the res of September 11 is by moving forward and building a better society through trust and teamwork. We can make it happen.
Out of the ashes and rubble of 9/11, we can create building blocks for the future.
Don’t let your sight get in the way of your vision.
There are those who have lost hope, who have grown bitter, angry, intolerant, and hateful. I am not one of those people. I still believe in dreams. I still think that if we work together, things will turn out all right. I still believe in dreams. I still feel that if we each treat each other with kindness, dignity, and respect, we will live happily ever after. I have hope.
I don’t know exactly what will come out of the part we played in September 11. I may never know. But I do know it’s all about planting seeds, seeds of forgiveness, healing, teamwork, and trust.
This is a book of contrasts: terrifying danger and incredible caring, paralyzing fear and courageous trust, exhausting struggle and ecstatic reward. It made me vow to be more sensitive, more alert to the needs of others, more eager to not assign bad motives when I might be offended, more awake to how I might, in ignorance of or oblivious to someone else’s needs, offend a person who is coming from a different perspective.
On this anniversary of a painful disaster, just maybe a decade of perspective might give us the fortitude to trust the power of love, forgiveness, mercy and grace, not only for those we perceive to be “enemies,” but also to those who have just been insensitive, oblivious or ignorant. Maybe time and perspective could encourage us, in short, to be more like Jesus.