Saturday, December 3, 2016

Reluctant Hero: A 9/11 Survivor Speaks Out About That Unthinkable Day, What He's Learned, How He's Struggled, and What No One Should Ever Forget


Rating: 4 Stars

Books about that day are difficult to read, but necessary. We can't forget that day, though we have forgotten the time of unity that followed it. I have a hard time reviewing books about 9-11 because it was such a tragedy and how do sit there and critique someone's experience of the worst day of their life? You don't. But I have a few thoughts about this one, and that will suffice for a review.

I was a freshman in college on 9-11. It was a few weeks into the school year, I was away from home for the first time in my life (about a six hour drive), and I think that is why this day has had the impact on me that it did. I was already going through this huge transition in my own life, and then suddenly so is my country. It was a lot to take in. So, I am drawn to the stories of the survivors and victims alike, and read these books to honor the memories of those who were lost and recognize the courage and struggle of those left behind.

As it turns out, Michael Benfante is a man I have seen dozens of times, though I did not realize it until picking up this book. He is, in fact, the man you have seen a clip of hundreds of times, running full-speed past a cameraman on the street who wipes his lens and continues filming as the second tower comes down. As I read the book and he mentioned this, I even looked up the interview clip he mentioned and sure enough, I had seen that before as well.

I really appreciated the way the author told his story. It was raw and angry and hopeful, even. We heard all the time in those chaotic days that followed of countless, selfless acts of kindness and heroism. Benfante is no exception, as he and a co-worker carried a woman who was stranded in her wheelchair, Tina Hansen, out of the North Tower, taking nearly an hour to escape when they could have simply passed by as others had.

This is what really shows the strength and resiliency of America and our people. When we were under attack, people looked out for one another. People lined up for blocks to donate blood, people like Welles Crowther returned time and again to the Sky Lobby to save as many people as he could.

At around 65% the author began recounting his visit back to Ground Zero for the first time since escaping the North Tower that day. I don't know if I could ever have gone back, had I been one of the survivors. I watch videos of that day, the plans hitting the towers and them falling, and that is hard enough. Knowing the trauma and tragedy going on inside as the planes burned and the towers eventually fell, it is mind-boggling. I don't think I could do it - I'm not even sure I could go to NYC and see the memorial, though I feel it is something I have to do at some point in my life. Benfante is much stronger than I am, even if he does not feel that way.

Prior to reading this, I had never heard the phrase "9-11 Fatigue" and I would love to know who the d-bag is that came up with that. If we stop talking about it, we start forgetting it. We forget the terror, the horror, the tragedy of that day. For a brief moment in time, our country was united and it would be so wonderful to be that way again. I just don't want another attack like 9-11 have to be the thing that makes people see it. I know right now we are more divided than ever, with good reason, but at some point we have to come together. A house divided cannot stand (I am by no means suggesting we forgive and forget the atrocious election season or its result, that is another conversation for another time), but there has to be some way to move forward and make progress, and I think I can speak for everyone when I say we do not want another 9-11 to be that catalyst.

In closing, I enjoyed this book as much as one can enjoy something of such tragedy. But we need these stories, and need to know there are still good people in the world who will do whatever they can for a stranger in their time of need. Some reviews stated the author was too angry and too repetitive, to which I stink-eye snidely and say, "Um, yeah, I think he's earned the right to be angry, he survived 9-11."

Highly recommended.

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