Saturday, September 11, 2010
By total coincidence I finished reading the book "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the road to 9/11" today. I didn't plan it this way. It just happened that I read the last page in the early morning hours of September 11. There was no commitment of any kind on my part. Just curiosity and probably a little bit of an obsessive-compulsive reading habit.
The way it happened was this: About a month ago, one of my favorite bloggers (TPM, Josh Marshall) asked his readers to name the best book about 9/11 and this book was at the top of the list. So I contacted my local library and borrowed it. It's a 373 pages of a fascinating read - minus 16 pages of black and white pictures showing some of the characters mentioned in the book. I seriously couldn't put that book down. Although I knew how it was going to end, I was still completely engrossed. The revelations and insights that the author provided in this book were simply beyond anything one could find in a typical news article. Sometimes it felt like TMI. For example, reading about the multiple marriages of bin Laden, especially the last one in which he married a 15 year-old girl from Yemen. I think he was over 40 by then, and a father of 17 children. I couldn't help thinking that the girl was about my daughter's age. Sickening.
But I don't want to spend my time writing about the bad guys here. And since talking about the awfulness of the day and what we learned about the world in the last nine years is just too obvious, I decided to write about one tiny detail that came up toward the end of the book and made me go "huh?"
On page 347 of this book the author, Lawrence Wright, mentions a children's book called The Soul Bird and quotes several lines from it. Here's one: "This is the soul bird, it feels everything we feel." Let me tell you, it is not every day that one sees a little Hebrew book mentioned in the context of 9/11. Seriously.
But beside that point, the line the author cited was a part of a much longer introduction. The book starts like this: "deep, deep inside the body resides the soul, no one ever saw her, but everyone knows she exists. And not only do they know that she exists, they know what's inside her. Inside the soul, at the center, stands on one foot, a bird, a bird whose name is the soul bird and she feels everything we feel." [pls check out the picture I posted at the top.]
Now I'm at peace again and you probably have a better grasp of my obsessive-compulsive relationship with words.
The Soul Bird is one of my favorite books. It is a Hebrew book, written by a woman who is connected to me by marriage of my brother's sister-in-law (confused?), so I can't claim she is a relative. But in some cosmic way I always felt that this book was connected to me and when I taught Hebrew I considered it my favorite text book which my students practically memorized, not because I told them to do so, but because they liked it so much. That book covers a variety of emotions and attitudes, for a lack of a better word, allegedly locked in the soul, so if one wants to learn the Hebrew word for patience or jealousy or happiness or despondency or sadness and hope and laziness and hatred, that's the book to turn to.
And the reason that the author of the Looming Tower mentions this little Hebrew book in this masterpiece is that this charming little Hebrew book drove the tough FBI agent, Paul O'Neill, who knew that Osama bin Laden was planning to attack America, who expected a huge attack to materialize any day in 2001, who tried to warn his bosses that something awful was about to happen, and who ended up dying on 9/11- this book drove him to tears!
That's the power of the written word.
just in case you wondered:
* Paul O'Neill was an FBI agent who investigated Al Qaeda for years.
He was on the team that investigated the attack on USS Cole in Yemen
in 2000. He had an office in World Trade Center on 34th floor (or 25th, not
sure), he was there on 9/11 and actually was able to get outside after the
plane hit the tower, but then he went back in to help people and died when
the building collapsed. He retired from FBI shortly before the attack and
worked as security consultant for the world trade center. He knew that it
would be hit again, he worked on the first attempt on the towers in 1993
when the blind sheik had his men explode a van full of explosives in the
underground parking lot. He was a real interesting character, kind of a
mafia type but on the other side of the law.