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Prompt for September 11, 2008

Please write a couple of paragraphs about an interview in Listening is an Act of Love that especially struck you.  What comes out through this interview that you might never have known if meeting the subject on the street or through a working relationship?  What impact does it have on you, emotionally, intellectually, or in relation to your goals in this course?

14 Responses to “9/11 Reading Reflections”

  1. Christian Woodard says:

    I’m not sure if this is the correct place to leave a response, mostly because I don’t see anyone else’s writing here. So, I’ll either be ahead of the curve or a blundering idiot. Story of my life…
    Anyway, I was really struck by the story of steelmaking in “Work and Dedication” (60-64). As a third generation worker in the steel mill, Ken Kobus had arresting memories and an engaging manner of relating them. I was amazed throughout the book at how eloquent and literary so many of these interviews seemed; I suppose, though, that good “literature” is really only the shadow of these oral accounts. They’re the real deal.
    His memories were both well detailed and immediate – hearing the “splunch” of molten steel hitting the bottom of a ladle, or knowing that his father’s nickname was “Crow” because of his long, black, straight hair seem almost necessary to the rest of his story. By narrating how the heat of a furnace stretches the skin and how it’s like staring at boiling, bubbling water, but through “a door opened to hell,” he gains the license to say things like “Steelmaking is just beautiful. It’s just unimaginable beauty.” Without providing the specifics of his relationship to the work, that type of statement would sound melodramatic and out of place. Instead, those words are really emotionally charged and quite believable.
    I know that this personal factor shows up in all of these stories, but Ken Kobus’ interiew speaks especially to importance of finding deep, emotional topics for our project.
    For all sorts of reasons, I find the stories of people who make things very intriguing. Especially those who consider their craft beautiful. This guy could have just as well been sculpting ivory or hammering gold jewelry – he was doing dirty, hard work, but was able to recognize its fundamental goodness. “They took pride in what they did,” he says, “and they knew that people looked at them with honor.” Man, what more can you ask from a job? I’d love to find people who have been able to know that satisfaction in their work, and in their lives. I’m thinking of sugar makers (who isn’t these days), but also of mechanics, construction workers, cooks, teachers, woodworkers, maybe some old folks who had a hand in some of the bygone factories… It might be really powerful to come at Starksboro from a profile of “work,” especially because the town so recently began its expansion. There are certainly citizens around who will remember when the town boasted less than 600 people, almost all of whom worked in the immediate vicinity. Recent times have seen work moving further and further from the back 40, though, and that transition could be a real key to present day Starksboro. Okay, don’t mean to ramble too much, but there are some thoughts…

  2. Nathan Zucker says:

    One of the strongest interviews was the one in which Mary Caplan discussed the death of her brother’s partner due to AIDS. Although most of the world feared any contact with AIDS patients during this era, Mary reached out to the dying man and provided him the comfort few would have afforded. First, I feel the interview is a strong icon of American culture during the 1980s; it shows the doubts many had about alternative lifestyles and the AIDS crisis, some of which have been resolved since that time period. The subject’s inside perspective on the issue reveals information about society that many college students may not be able to access in 2008.

    Furthermore, this dialogue exemplifies the dignity and humanity that surface in the interview process. By speaking intimately with everyday people, one learns of not only life’s complexity, but of the goodness of the human race. This essential humanity is often ignored in the mainstream media, which focuses on aggressive political campaigns and celebrity scandals. In our course, we are also hoping to elicit the compassion of the ordinary American.

  3. Chester Harvey says:

    I was struck by the story of Kiersta Kurtz-Burke, the doctor who stayed on-call for six straight days during Hurricane Katrina. Her story is a testament to the faith and endurance of New Orleanians during Katrina, and the roles they took on to help the city cope with this disaster. Kiersta almost certainly had the means to evacuate when her shift was up that Sunday night as the storm fell on the city, but she was so concerned with her patients that the option didn’t even register. The same was true for hundreds of other hospital employees – nurses, janitors, maintenance men, and security gaurds – who clocked more than a months-worth of work in less than a week to keep every patient alive and well, only to lose their jobs indefinitely following the storm. As Kiersta notes, these efforts are barely recognized.

    The Katrina experience is often framed in terms of personal loss and public failure. Individuals lost so much: houses, neighborhoods, lives, and livelihoods. The government made so many mistakes in its response. Less publicized are the things that were saved – small successes often made possible by the heroic efforts of regular people. Kiersta’s story highlights these successes, and honors those at Charity Hospital and so many more like them, for their actions that week. It frames the Katrina survivor not as someone who should simply be pitied, but as someone who should likely be honored for their service in the face of a terrifying scenario.

  4. Lindsay Patterson says:

    “Eddie S. Lanier Jr., 60, interviewed by his friend David Wright, 51” (114-119)
    I was struck by this story and found it incredibly moving. It is a tragic story but has an uplifting and powerful ending. In the beginning of the interview, Eddie tells about what inspired his first drink: a young kid feeling lost and searching for his identity that would make him acceptable in his social environment. Tragically, what brought him social acceptance during adolescence was also what destroyed and dictated the next forty years of his life. Through his interview, it is clear that at the time when he took that first drink, he was vulnerable and willing to do whatever it would take to no longer be the victim of social cruelty. When he took that first drink, he was disregarding his father’s warning about his family’s history of alcoholism, which was the beginning of the end of his relationship with his parents. As the interview continues, it is clear that alcohol had left Eddie with nothing and nobody. I found it so courageous that even though he had no one to support him, he committed to being sober and went to his parents’ graves to give them his word. The image of Eddie, broken down, standing in front of his parents’ graves, asking God to be his messenger, is vivid and powerful.
    I was also struck by the reality of life for Eddie after he committed to being sober. Here he was with nothing: no ID, no money, no home, no family, and yet had made this courageous decision to try and die with honor. He felt his only way of surviving was to stand on the corner with a sign and hope that people would spare him their extra change. David Wright, the interviewer, is an inspiration to me. He would stop and give him a 2 dollar bill and a can of tuna. Thinking back at the number of people that I have driven past, assuming they spend their money on drugs, and not considering that they may be in a situation like Eddie’s made me evaluate how I make my judgments of people. These interviews can serve as reminders that truly everyone has a story worth telling and if we take the time to listen, we can learn so much about who people are, and what has shaped them into their being.

  5. Robert McKay says:

    I was struck by the first several accounts in the “Work” section – by the extreme forces they described, and how these titanic forces act harshly on workers’ bodies, but are also mastered by those workers. In the steel worker’s story especially, there was a sense of awe at this two-way relation between human and titanic industrial force – awe at both the furnaces and the men who ran them. The piece held the same kind of giddiness that one finds in accounts of combat, bullfighting and the like. There is an almost morbid fascination with the superhuman power of one’s dancing partner, this inhuman substance as it were between one’s hands. The almost worshipful pride in this kind of labor is a way of shouting back into those howling furnace doors and inhuman hours, like standing in a wind tunnel and shouting into it with all one’s strength.

  6. Robert McKay says:

    In response to the question, I cannot imagine steelworkers talking like this to each other, even in their off hours. These are mythic feelings being expressed in this interview, and a great deal of distance from the events would be needed, I think. Many of these interview do have memory as that distancing mechanism, but also the seclusion of this strange booth with microphones, the decision to go there, the asking someone important to come with you – all this sets the interview apart quite starkly from ordinary life, and allows people to speak in a colloquial but somehow “higher” register.

  7. Alena Giesche says:

    I finished this book late last night, even though I told myself I was going to stop reading at midnight and get some sleep. It was just too addictive- that instant transportation into someone else’s life. As I read the stories in this book, I found myself living through historical events, intense struggles, and beautiful, loving encounters. The reality of the interviews is one of their most striking features; the emotions are absolutely honest and the descriptions are vivid and direct.

    One of the stories that stayed with me was about the sanitation workers in Tennessee. Taylor and Bessie Rogers described the struggle to create a union for the workers, and how after 65 days they asked Martin Luther King to help them. He was assassinated the day before the march. The union was finally created for the workers, and Bessie relates how she reminds the sanitation workers today of this sacrifice: “Years ago my husband had the tub on the top of his head. Had to go way in the backyard and get the garbage”. What a simple sentence, but how weighted it is with such heavy history and personal sacrifice. I can remember many instances when an elderly neighbor or community member related a similar anecdote to me, yet I would brush it off as yet another interesting but rather insignificant memory. Reading this story makes me realize that these short anecdotes or memories were probably very important and had great meaning attached to them. By ignoring this and neglecting to listen and ask more questions, I probably lost many amazing stories that are historically and personally very touching and memorable. Listening to stories is probably one of the oldest and most forgotten arts in the history of human society. Why did we let go of it so quickly ?

  8. Ian Sanders-Fleming says:

    Given the chance, I would have picked a better time to read these stories than last night and this morning, because bawling in the middle of Ross is a strange way to start the day.

    One story that particularly stayed with me is Joseph Dittmar’s description of his experience in the Twin Towers on September 11th. His description of the events that day, what he did that morning, the actual experience in the towers after the collisions, and the emotional aftermath I found really poignant. The slow development of awareness by Joseph and his co-workers to the reality of the situation is easy to imagine. I found the point at which Joseph and a huge group of people stopped on the 90th floor to watch the North Tower after it was hit particularly disturbing; those people assumed a separation from the events in the other tower, and it cost them their lives. Throughout his story, Joseph describes how people’s different reactions dictated life or death, and one can only wonder what they themselves would do.

    Another reason I really enjoyed Joseph’s story is his language. He describes several snapshot experiences that draw the reader into the experience simply and effectively. His memory of women’s high heels scattered along the stair case really captured the gradual shedding of social security to the very basic act of running away. The strange silence after the impact of the second plane into the South Tower, the universal scream across New York as the towers fell, all really prove just how communal the tragedy was. I’m a weepy guy, but what really got me was the emotional connections that spread that day across the country. Joseph’s experience caused emotional waves all the way to Illinois, almost immediately. The community connections that were active that day really were powerful. Other powerful moments: when he crossed paths with firemen and policemen walking up to their doom, people too tired to get down the stairs, a singing policeman, all these people approaching the crisis in different ways.

    I’ve always been slightly unaware of the depth of tragedy that people experienced from the fall of the Two Towers, having lost no one personally, or even knowing anyone that lost someone in the towers well. Joseph really threw it in my face with his story.

  9. Maxwell Kanter says:

    The interview between Joseph Robertson and John H. Fish Jr. on page 178 affected me most. Josheph Robertson enlisted in the military before he was legally of age. Four years later he was in Europe fighting for the US. Survivors of war always say that being emotionally numb to killing is the only way to cope with the extremes. In order to save his own life, Joseph was forced to shoot a German soldier. Joseph reveals how hard it is to grapple with killing another human. The soldiarity he felt for this enemy German soldier is impressive and heartbreaking. While reading this interview I can imagine an entire generation of men and women surviving the horrors of WWII.

    I only knew my grandfather for a short period, and other than him I haven’t interacted much with elderly men, or women for that matter. Actually, I am mildly intimidated by the elderly, which is unfortunate and isn’t founded upon any particularly tramatic experience. What intregues me the most about Joseph’s story, is the eloquence and honesty of its telling. I hope that through this course I will be able to enteract and empathize with people from different generations.

  10. Deborah Wakefield says:

    I choose the story about AIDS. I have an older brother who is definitely my closest relative. My parents got divorced at a young age and ever since my brother and I have stuck through whatever problems our parents (or step-parents) could throw at us. I sincerely don’t believe my brother will develop AIDS, but I related more to the thought of losing him. I also couldn’t imagine the anger I would feel towards the hospital for treating my brother like an alien with a terrible disease.

    If I had just met Mary on the street, she would probably be wearing a ribbon of some sort in memory of her brother, but I’m sure she does not just tell everyone the whole process of his death. I can imagine the details about the hospital and the doctors who would not treat him is too painful to talk about on a regular basis.

    I think I could relate better to someone who has lost a family member now that I have read this piece. Especially since I find that most pieces about loss are about a parent or a spouse, but this one particularly struck me because I am so close to my brother.

  11. Luke Eastman says:

    All of these stories struck me quite hard emotionally, probably more so than any other book I have ever read. But one that I particularly found amazing was the story of the busdriver, Ronald Ruiz. I hardly expected such a heartwarming experience to come from him – I have an image in my mind of all busdrivers as being bitter about their job and unwilling to divert their route for anything. Mr. Ruiz’s minor heroism was so profound to me. That he would take the time to check every restaurant on a block really was, to me, amazing.

    The fact that one simple act like that can change someone’s life so dramatically is inspiring to me in that I am reminded to be vigilant about my interactions with others, knowing that the little things can often have a huge impact on somebody.

    I took away from this story and all the others a general feeling of excitement and a desire to learn more about the stories of others. I think I may do my own interviews of people that are close to me as well as those in Starksboro who I am sure have wonderful things to say – everybody has a story to tell. And sometimes, the most interesting stories come from the least celebrated people.

  12. Tucker Levy says:

    While larger events such as the 9/11 attacks and disease shape the lives of those who experience them, people are constantly influenced by the smaller day-to-day occurrences, which are often equally as powerful. I believe these are the stories most telling of the nature of a given community. I would like to uncover stories of this type through our interviews in Starksboro. The interview with Ronald Ruiz on pages 86 and 87 embodies this type of story. Ronald truly loves and cares for his passengers. In this story, he goes into every restaurant on City Island Avenue until he finds the group that an elderly passenger is looking for. He went out of his way to make the woman feel special and cared for. After he helps her off the bus she says to him, “I’ve been diagnosed with cancer—but today is the best day of my life.” This story reveals the inherent goodness in every human being.

    Given the tightly knit nature of Starksboro, I think that it will be relatively easy to find these stories because everybody is so closely connected, which is not true in a larger settlement such as New York City. I have been in contact with those who work the land my whole life and from what I have seen, these people have huge hearts and are always ready to help a neighbor out. My next door neighbor used to mow a huge portion of our lawn every week just because he cared. By collecting these stories, I think the town will be able to use them to create a town plan that encourages people to help one another out, which will ensure that the community remains strong as well as make outsiders feel more comfortable and welcome is this wonderful town.

  13. Aylie Baker says:

    I think the story which resounded with me personally was that about the mother from Maine, my home state. There’s something magical in the manner in which a person’s personal descriptions of places you yourself know and can relate to can transform that setting, adding another layer of sentiment. I’ve actually heard this same story on NPR, and remember the first time I heard it thinking that, had I walked by this woman on the street, or perhaps even had a chance conversation, it is likely that such a story would never surface.

    For me the power of storytelling lies in exactly this fact. That regular people, from seemingly regular backgrounds (Maine isn’t exactly your typical movie set) all have something interesting, and worthwhile to say. The physical act of listening is a means to sanctify and confirm the individual, the fact that we’re reading this story, a way of showing understanding and sharing a common, though at the surface separate experience.

  14. Jeremy Cline says:

    One of the powerful aspects of this book which has stuck with me is how it revealed the religous nature of our country. This may sound bizzare, as I believe that the USA is not percieved as a particulary religous nation by the rest of the world, or by ourselves; many people say the green dollar is the bottom line in America. This books makes me feel otherwise. Listening to people’s stories of enduring hardship and pursuing what they know to be right with such heart shows the faith and spiritual grit of the American people. Many of the stories in the work and dedication secion and the journeys section point to this strongly. like the story of the mother in Maine who worked 20 hour days to support her children. What incredible dedication. To be able to do something like that, getting nothing out of ityourself, is, in my eyes, an act of incredible bravery and faith, of a selfless humility. This humility which is demonstrated again and again through the book, from the men at the pumping station to the social worker who lets himself recieve grace through a prostitue hugging him, this humility is the foundation of religion, or bright spirit. Forget rituals and ceremonies, all the colors and explosions of organized faith around the world, the average Americans, with their strength to withstand tremendous trauma, and extrapersonal dedication, show what faith and humility is. Even the story of the alcoholic man, lowered to such a position, humbled to a breath of death, just to recieve the grace of the man who brought him in. This book is the grace of our lives constanly unfolding. The power of being human is brought out beautifully in these stories through the lives of average citizens, whose lives are as rich and deep as any important figure. Hopefully we can listen to the timeless faith and dedication of the human spirit in the stories we collect from Starksboro as well.

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