Wendy's favorite quotes

"Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."— Dr. Seuss

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close, For All Of Us.

I’ve just finished reading EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLYCLOSE, A Novel by Jonathan Safran Foer.

From the back cover, “Nine-year-old Oscar Schell has embarked on an urgent, secret mission that will take him through the five boroughs of New York. His goal is to find the lock that matches a mysterious key that belonged to his father, who died in the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11. This seemingly impossible task will bring Oskar into contact with survivors of all sorts on an exhilarating, affecting, often hilarious, and ultimately healing journey.”
The cover is brilliant, not because of the interesting way the titles go up the fingers, or the visual lines that draw us to the boys eyes again and again, but because that face is ours. The day the towers fell, we stood with our hands over our mouths as if hiding could make it all be less real, less scary, less terrifying.
Just flipping through the book is fascinating. The pages break every “rule” with blocks of solid text filled with conversations where he said, “Something,” and someone else said, “something else,” and it all smushes together without tabs or paragraph breaks—all while giving glimpses of a beautiful broken boy trying to make sense out of a senseless loss. “Oskar?” “I’m Okay.” “Don’t go away.”
As the pages flip past, the style changes, becoming all aligned left, and then spaced out, missing in chunks, and even written on top of each other. But every broken rule is deliberate, thought provoking, and wonderfully done.

Interspersed with the text are pictures of locks and keys, of doors, tattooed hands, and random things, of a man falling from the tower. . . .
And then the last pages, after the story runs its course, the same falling man, but with the pages reversed so when you flip them, the man falls up, not down. Up, up, up—back to when the world made sense, before everything scary happened extremely loud and incredibly close.
The people we meet in this book are broken, each in their own way. Their struggle to carry on shines from the pages and we root for them, pray for them, cover our faces with them.
I cannot read this book without remembering that day, and how it was for me. I didn’t deal with it well. I know that. You can see previews for the movie they made of this book, but I'm not sure I want to see it. I’ve avoided the 911 movies and specials for more than a decade because I didn’t want to live through it again, but this book called to me, and for the first time, I was ready to go back to that day. It feels like a mish-mash of things that shouldn't be real, but are, that have no business being in the same world together.
We woke to the sound of the phone ringing: Mother yelling on the line, “Turn on the TV; the whole world’s gone to Hell!” We rush to the television and watch the early breaking news of the tower on fire, struck by a plane. An accident, a terrible, terrible accident. We watch the smoke and wonder. My husband dresses for work and leaves. Bye. Love you. Be safe. I watch the second plane hit the tower. Crash, Boom. The news rewinds it, makes us watch it a thousand times. Not an accident. Terrorists. My children wake up, first the baby, then my toddler. I dress for work, it’s harvest time after all. Time to go pick corn. I should pick the corn, but instead, I gather my babies on my lap and feed them bottles as we snuggle under the blankets. The Pentagon is hit, burning. Are you going to pick corn today. Yes. Later, later. There is a little left from yesterday. The world is burning. Can’t you see? Don’t you know? A plane went down in a Pennsylvania field. Would you like carrots with your potatoes today? Yes. Tomatoes too, please. The tower falls. I stand and cry, my hands over my face, my eyes peeking just over the tips of my fingers. No, no, no, all those people. Oh, God. Oh, God. Three dozen ears of corn please; I have to go pick a row. I’m picking corn as the world is burning. How stupid, I think. People are buried, coated in dust, choking, falling, waving shirts for the helicopters that won’t save them on the roof, and I’m here. Picking corn. I finish the row, give them the corn, gather my little ones, and watch the other tower fall. No words. Only tears. We watch it fall in playbacks. It falls a thousand times.
I still have the VHS tapes of that day. I recorded it. I will never watch it.
My daughter saw me crying today, as I finished the book, and said her teacher cried on September 11th last year. Broke down and told her story in class—that her fiancé was in that tower. That he never got out. That they were to marry in November of that year. That she will never marry or find another because we only get one soul mate in this world and that was him. That was him.
How foolish, I think, that I can live in the middle of a corn field, thousands of miles away, knowing no one who died, and still feel a little bit broken from that day. And then I think. Maybe we’re all a little broken from that day. Maybe that’s what has made this book an international best seller. We see the broken boy and we want him to be okay. Because if he can be okay, so can we.
My grandmother remembers Pearl Harbor like a snapshot. Everything she saw, heard, wore, and ate from that day. My mother remembers JFK. For me, it is 911. What moment in history affected your life. Did you ever feel even a little bit broken by events a thousand miles away?


kbrebes said...

Beautiful writing, Wendy. Thank you for sharing your soul. Yes. I lived through a riot and was saved by an LDS boy who I didn't even know was LDS at the time, but God was watching over me. xo K

Nichole Giles said...

Beautifully put. I think we ARE all broken by the things that happen in the world. My daughter was broken by the kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart. It broke something in her to know a stranger had gone into this girl's bedroom and taken her while her family slept. She slept on the floor in our bedroom for five years, even after Elizabeth was found.

I was broken by September 11th. I am broken by shootings in malls and at schools, and by parents who kill their children and then themselves. We are all broken by the evil in the world.

Lucky for us, good leaks through the cracks and helps us heal, helps us grow. And people like you and me--we try to share that good by writing about it. Thanks for sharing your story.

Mike Keyton said...

A wonderful review, Wendy and some beautiful evocative writing. I remember being in the Staffroom when a colleague came in with the news. We crowded round the television. I watched it again that night, and the night after that like a stunned cod. If there's a poetry of evil it was 9/11.

Donna K. Weaver said...

What a lovely review, Wendy. You so captured that day. For some of us who have lived long enough, we have two (or sadly three) days like this. My father and uncle (who was at Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima) did. I only have two such days. That's plenty.

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

That was beautiful and raw, Wendy. I will always remember the explosion of the Challenger, as well as 9/11, Elizabeth Smart, and the LA riots after the King trial. They change the way I look at my world. At least the Challenger was an accident (depending on who you talk to)

James Duckett said...

I'm with you. 9/11 will forever haunt me. I can rarely think about it without getting really angry inside. Ten years later, I still don't know if I'm ready for this book/movie.

G. Parker said...

I totally understand. I agree - and what a way to put it! Perhaps not really broken, but the innocence of our safe world was shattered a little and we aren't sure we can trust that again. Take care.

Lynn Parsons said...

I was working in a high school library. I spent the day walking children to the counselor, and helping the children of pilots call their mothers to see if their fathers were still alive. I watched their world views crash down. My daughter called from middle school because some student said Dallas was in flames...and her father worked there...in an office building.

I don't think any of us will ever be the same again.

JoLyn Brown said...

I was in high school.

It really is hard to write about, isn't it?

I remember this though,

The next day. Auditorium filled. My friends and I seeking each other out, standing near the front as Amazing Grace was played on the bagpipes. I looked down the row and we were all crying. We said the Pledge of Allegiance. I've never heard it said like that, before nor since.

Thank you for sharing.

Rachel said...

Thanks for sharing.
I know exactly where I was that day. I walked in the door from seminary. The first tower had been hit 5 minutes previously. I watched the smoke rising until the towers fell.
For the first time I felt a deep sense of pride in my country and like hundreds of thousands of people I was ready to do anything to ensure that this tragedy never happened again.

Taffy said...

Thank you for your post, Wendy. It was beautiful. I'm amazed that after so many years I still get emotional over 9/11. Even now I feel tears working themselves up. What a devastating day and on the flip side, so many heroes.

Another event that affected was the day the wall in Germany came down. I was surprised at how so many adults didn't believe it would ever happen.

Cathy said...

I was at the elementary school. The teachers were going in slow motion. Every one was stunned.
Your words are very eloquent. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

Vickie said...

This is beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I will be honest that this post made me cry because I could feel what you felt. Honestly I do not remember 9/11. I was little; 5 or 6, and yet I feel like it took part of me too. I want to read this book, despite of the tragedy that is behind it. It sounds beautiful. Thank you, Wendy. Thank you so much.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

The night before I had been up with a colicky baby, doing the mommy walk all through the house, patting her back and thinking, "How will I survive?" Then not long after I finally fell asleep, a friend called and woke me up. "Turn on the TV. Right now!"

My husband and I sat in shock as we watched the destruction of the towers. He served his mission there. We both had friends who worked in the towers. So much loss and tragedy. And I thought, "How will all those families survive? How will our country survive?"

I also remember who angry I was. How dare someone do this to others, to our country! I had college classes that evening, that ended up being canceled just before I arrived. I sat in Chili's that night, writing out my feelings in my college journal.

Since then, I've watched and prayed while my brother and many friends were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Each time they go, I remember 9-11 and relive all those feelings.

Thank you for your post, Wendy. This is a moment that my family will never forget. Talking about it with others - sharing our memories - is healing.

i'm erin. said...

Wow Wendy, I'm so drawn in by your writing and how you captured every strange and compelling part of that day. I remember feeling like something switched inside me while I watched the towers fall. Nothing made sense and I couldn't do anything about it.

Your post is beautiful!

Lisa said...

such a great segment of writing Wendy! I think 9/11 is the JFK and Pearl Harbor of our generation, as is Challenger for when we were our kids age. I don't like to think of that day either. I'm from DC. We lived in Vegas at the time and woke to phone calls of family assuring us they were ok and a few hours to track down a few more. The next few days we heard of people that weren't we knew in the Pentagon. The world isn't so big when a tradgedy is happening in your own backyard, even if it's thousands of miles away.

Tapper said...

Thanks for saying what I still cannot. It is such a comfort to know that so many people still feel it as deeply as we did the first day.
This world is so rough, but we all have a few more rows to hoe, don't we?

Renae W. Mackley said...

I loved your wording and the book sounds interesting.
Just yesterday I learned of a 12 year old boy in our community who shot and killed his father. So strange. We are all affected by these type of things but can't forget the good things either.