Today is 9/11. I remember when that day was just amusing because it was the same as dialing 911. It had no significance whatsoever. Now, it’s hard to escape its influence. I live in Virginia, far from NYC, but not that far from the Pentagon, and I still remember a school visit from two years ago that drove home for me just how much 9/11 had changed us.
I’d just finished speaking and packing everything up, and I headed out across the parking lot, which was full of students waiting for the buses. You could barely hear yourself think for all the talking. And then a plane flew over. We were pretty close to DC, so it wasn’t unusual that a flight was heading toward Dulles over the school. But something about the plane . . . it was just a little too low, and it was banking a little more steeply than usual. It was probably just redirected and reapproaching for some reason; who knows why it was so off kilter and so low over the school.
But every voice in that parking lot stopped. It had been years since the attack, but everyone remembered, and every teen stopped and watched the plane as it flew overhead and straightened out. It took almost a minute after the plane had disappeared for the voices to reach their original volume. And I thought: this. This is who we are now, forever.
I don’t normally post a 9/11 related blog post, just because there’s nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said. And even if I could say it differently, there’s nothing I can say that would change the events of that day.
But I read a book this year that changed my mind. It’s called LOVE IS THE HIGHER LAW, by David Levithan. In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I both know and like David -- he’s editor Mixtape and we work together on SHIVER. I should also mention, however, that I know and like a lot of authors -- and yet I don’t blog about a lot of books. I’m really picky and though I like a lot of books, I only blog about the books that I really love.
I really love this book. And here’s why.
It’s about three teens’ experiences on the day of the attack, and how it changes them as people. I have to admit I was really leery about reading a book about 9/11 -- I didn’t want anything that was a) maudlin, b) manipulative, or c) intensely depressing. And I just didn’t see how a 9/11 book could avoid all of those things. But I thought, if anyone can pull it off, it’s David -- his novels all have this very innocent, open quality to them.
So I began to read. And on page seven, my eyes teared up, and I thought: here we go.
But here we didn’t.
That was the first and last time my eyes watered in this book, because LOVE IS THE HIGHER LAW is not about reliving the horrors of 9/11. What can I say about it? It’s this incredibly inspiring, moving, and honest look at how something good can come out of something terrible. David’s love of New York City permeates the novel, and as a non-New Yorker, it was wonderful to have a window into that world.
And it was not a sad book. Incredibly, it was everything that 9/11 was not. Though as a writer I saw a ton of things that I would’ve changed about the book (remember this post about loving books that we had issues with? yeah, this was one of them), all I could think after I closed the pages was what a buoyant mood I was in. I was filled with faith in the ultimate good of people in the face of horror, and I, like the main characters, felt like I wanted to talk about where I was that day, how I felt, what changed.
I did. That night, I curled up with my husband in bed, lights off, and together we whispered back and forth what we remembered about 9/11. I still remember the exact place I was when I first heard the news on my car radio, not just the street I was on, not just the block I was driving through, but the distance from the curb and the quality of the light. I remember the payphone that I called my now-husband on as the ambulance he drove raced towards the Pentagon.
Ultimately, what I loved about LOVE IS THE HIGHER LAW was the message -- that 9/11 was not for nothing if we let it change us for the better. If we remain better versions of ourselves, the versions that reached out to strangers and felt part of something bigger, then it wasn’t such a senseless, vicious tragedy, and it’s something worth remembering.The title says it all -- if it's not true, it's what ought to be true.