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A 9/11 Book With a Message of Hope

Review of Pieces Falling by Ann Van Hine

September 9, 2021 by

Pieces Falling by Ann Van Hine

I first met Ann Van Hine around the tenth anniversary of 9/11. I was at Warwick Valley Church of the Nazarene to witness Five Bells for 9/11, an evocative one-man play depicting three lives impacted on that day. One of these was Ann’s husband, R. Bruce Van Hine, a firefighter with FDNY Squad 41. Bruce never made it out of the South Tower.

During the intervening years, I have heard Ann share her story in a variety of settings, including a guided tour at the 9/11 Memorial – her mission field, as she calls it. Now, in time for the twentieth anniversary, Ann has put her account into print in Pieces Falling: Navigating 9/11 with Faith, Family, and the FDNY.

I expected a good read, and as a beautifully crafted 9/11 memoir, Pieces Falling deserves its place on your book shelf, ready to share with a friend. What I did not anticipate, however, is the book’s ability to speak powerfully and universally to a spectrum of trauma and loss, and map a path to a place of healing. The book, then, becomes a valuable tool both for those seeking their own recovery, and for those who desire to walk alongside them on that journey.

The South Tower Pool at the 911 Memorial site in Manhattan The South Tower Pool at the 9/11 Memorial site in Manhattan. Bruce Van Hine's name is on the bronze parapets surrounding the pool. Photo by Axel Houmadi on Unsplash.

Ann does this in a remarkable way by using the unfolding 9/11 realities she was forced to face – the attack in which Bruce was killed, the pile under which his body lay until it was discovered months later, and the pit that represented irreplaceable loss – to guide a victim to a place where healing can begin. This place, for Ann, is represented by the Memorial plaza where she finds meaning and purpose as a tour guide. As she puts it, “God does not waste anything.”

With Ann, we learn to stare ugly reality straight in the face (Bruce was not coming home) and to deal with all the stuff that needs to get done. “After an attack of any kind smashes the foundations of your life,” she writes, “before you can regain your bearings, you may find yourself staring at a massive pile of rubble.” But it only gets worse. “You peer into a dark cavernous space. It is a pit, a void left by what was taken from you. A hole that remains long after the pile is gone. Now what?”

It is precisely that question, tormenting as it first sounds, that is actually the first step out of the pit. The details are different for every person, but finding an answer, step by step, leads to a better place. As Ann puts it, “Some people think you can move on from great loss. . . . [Y]ou can’t. But you can move forward.”

Jesus gave us a mandate to walk alongside one another, to be there for others – even in the midst of our own brokenness – as the tangible hands, feet, and heart of a God who, at times, can feel so distant from very real and immediate pain and loss. Jesus shows us what that looks like; for her part, Ann points us to the Healer and challenges us to be more faithful in compassion and more intentional in the doing of it.

Pieces Falling has a final message to a world caught up in the embrace of victimhood. Perhaps the most startling passages in the book are those in which Ann eschews the arguably well-deserved mantle of victimhood and instead points to faith, family, and community as empowering realities for those victimized by life. Stuff happens. But if we access them, there are resources that fuel surprising resilience following horrific trauma. Because of these, Pieces Falling ends on a hopeful note. It is with hope that we should face 9/11/2021. And go forward together.

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About the author

photograph of Bill and Grace Wiser

Bill Wiser

Bill Wiser lives at Danthonia, a Bruderhof in New South Wales. His daily activities include teaching and pastoral work...

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