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Thunder Dog

post written by Esther Filbrun

Thunder Dog by Michael HingsonTitle: Thunder Dog
Michael Hingson
Major Themes: 9/11, Airplanes, Terrorists, Terrorist Attacks, United States
When Tower 1 of the World Trade Center is hit early in the morning of 9/11/2001, will Michael and his guide dog Roselle be able to remember the training they’ve received and get out safely?

What an adventure! Thunder Dog is the second book I’ve ever read about 9/11, when the World Trade Center was hit by two airplanes controlled by tourists, resulting in the tragic loss of almost 3,000 people.

I still remember the day, soon after I turned three, when the event happened. Mom was feeding my almost five-week-old second brother. Two young ladies from church were deep in the process of canning the year’s tomatoes. Then, a phone call came that halted all operations and made Mom and our friends look very worried. That’s all I remember—a brief moment in time. And yet, I’m sure I’ll never forget it because of the significance attached to it years down the road. Such as later, when I  picked up a fascinating coffee table book simply titled “9/11” at a nursing home. I didn’t understand then, even, what I was looking at—not until Mom told me the story, and told me how it had affected the nation. Even then the tragedy didn’t sink in until I read an autobiography (the title currently escapes me) about a woman trapped in the rubble. One of the few that somehow escaped.

It was real. I knew it was bad, even when I was three, and through the years the story became clearer to me. Now, through this book, I can understand even better what happened almost fifteen years ago. It’s still shocking news, even after all these years. This book makes it real. It puts a face to those in the World Trade Center.

Michael’s story starts as a normal day—comforting the dog through the storm, eating the normal breakfast, heading to work. Everything goes just as it has for the last few years. He has a meeting to hold today, but it shouldn’t be too hard. When he arrives at the office on the 78th floor of Tower 1, the North tower of the World Trade Center, he meets several coworkers and sets about finalizing the last few things before all the guests arrive.

Then, just as he is finishing the prep work, he hears a loud boom—and the building slowly begins to tip toward the southwest. After going over about twenty feet, it somehow rights itself and they soon realize the stories above them are on fire. They tell the people still in the conference room to get out—and along with another team member Michael works to shut down all computers to prevent water damage. However, that is taking too long, so they leave it—and head down the 1,463-stair stairwell to the bottom of the building. Will they get out in time? Even if they do get out, will they be able to go back to normal life despite the tragedy that is about to unfold before them?

One of the things that I loved about Thunder Dog was the clarity of the story. I felt like I was there—trying to keep from chocking in the acrid smell of aviation fuel, the swell of relief as water was passed back to me and my equally parched dog, the camaraderie that developed as we all worked together to keep each other sane and moving forward, the hope that all will be well as firefighters finally made their way up to us and went beyond—back the way we’ve just come—to fight the fire. Little things are what make this book great. Those little details that spell REAL in all caps, boldface, and more.

Even more than those minor but oh so important things, sharing what it was like that day in September 2001, are the stories of Michael Hingson’s childhood. He shares how he was born prematurely, how he was put in an incubator of some kind so his lungs could properly develop, and because of that treatment how he completely lost his eyesight. Hearing how he learned to cope—and thrive—in a sighted world, despite all the petty prejudices that we the sighted have against the blind. It’s fascinating to hear from a blind person, because seeing the world through their eyes gives a new perspective to things. I realized through reading this book that I struggle to relate to these people—unintentionally or no, I’ve generally ignored their presence simply because I don’t know what to say to them. This is something that I’m planning—hoping—to change. I want to include everyone, and blind people are still humans with hearts just like me. This book has been very helpful in that department.

Like many books, Thunder Dog tells two stories—the story of a man and his guide dog trying to escape the World Trade Center, and the story of Michael’s years as he grew and learned to live a normal life despite his blindness (things like learning to ride a bike and drive a car). In all, this is a worthwhile story. It does tend to drag a little bit as he tells about his growing years, but even that is very interesting and informative. I highly recommend the book!

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