Love, Loss and Endurance (Bill Tammeus) - A Review
LOVE, LOSS AND ENDURANCE: A 9/11 Story of Resilience and Hope in an Age of Anxiety. By Bill Tammeus. Canton, MI: Front Edge Publishing, 2021. Xxiii + 218 pages.
If we are of a certain age, we probably remember where we were and what we felt on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was a pastor in Santa Barbara. I was also the President of the local interfaith clergy group. That morning ate breakfast with three other men from the church, which I did every Tuesday morning. It was a bright sunny Santa Barbara morning. Little did I know when I got up that morning and headed to the restaurant around the corner that the world would be shaken by a series of terrorist attacks. I stopped by the parsonage on my way to the office and to my disbelief watched a plane crash into one of the Twin Towers. Still in shock, I went to the office. Remember that Santa Barbara is three hours later than New York and Washington D.C., so it was still rather early in the morning. After arriving in the office, my colleague LLoyd Saatjian stopped in to talk about how we as the faith community would respond. What we did was sponsor a community service of remembrance the following Sunday evening at Lloyd’s church—First United Methodist. The sanctuary was full. People were sitting on the floor. Among those who spoke that evening was a local rabbi, the hospital’s director of spiritual care who is a UCC pastor, and the Imam. It was a powerful evening. I was greatly moved by what transpired that evening, an event that had to be planned on the fly. But, for the most part, those of us involved in that service were not personally affected by the attacks. We were too far away from the events of the week, but we felt the aftereffects. Now, we approach the twentieth anniversary of that infamous day. Unfortunately, terrorist attacks, some domestic in origin, remain with us. I had hoped the world would change, but I’m not sure it did. Nevertheless, it is important that we remember and reflect. One to do so is to listen to those persons most affected by it.
Among those who felt the aftershocks most fully is Bill Tammeus. Tammeus is a retired reporter, columnist, and for a time after 9/11, a religion writer for the Kansas City Star. He is the author of seven books and contributes to a variety of outlets and is well regarded for his work. I greatly enjoyed his book, Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar, so I expected good things from this book and I wasn’t disappointed.
Love, Loss and Endurance is the story of Tammeus’ nephew Karleton D. B. Fyfe, who was a passenger on American Airlines flight 11 that took off that fateful Tuesday morning from Logan Airport in Boston. Fyfe was heading out on a business trip, but he never made it to his destination. Instead, he would be among those who died that day as that plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Tammeus narrates the story of Fyfe’s death and its effect on his family, including Tammeus, whose sister was Fyfe’s mother. Before he ever knew That his nephew was a passenger on that flight, Tammeus had been tasked by his editor with writing a story on the attack. This story for the Star would be the first of many reflections by Tammeus that dealt with that day. Those reflections gave birth to this book.
The book centers on both the person of his nephew and the impact on his family. Tammeus introduces us to his nephew so that we can get a sense of who this person was who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He wasn’t being targeted specifically, he was just a passenger on a plane that was hijacked and then flown into a building. He is just another human being, and yet he was part of a family. His death may not have impacted the reader, but it impacted his family and his friends, all those who loved him. Among those impacted by his death was wife Haven and their sons, one of whom was born eight months after his death. It also impacted Tammeus’ sister Barb, and we are brought into the conversations he had with his sister in the days and months and years that followed. Although part of a thigh bone was later recovered, they had to hold a service of remembrance without a body. We learn about the struggles the family had in making sense of Fyfe’s death, along with a decision by his wife Haven to remarry, which didn’t sit well at first with his sister (or even Tammeus). We learn that the grieving continues as anniversaries pile up, new discoveries are made, and old wounds are reopened. Yes, it was more than a one-day event.
The memoir of one extended family's attempts to come to grips with this fateful day that took a loved one from them is combined with reflections on the problems posed by misanthropic religious beliefs that can give birth to such horrors. So, throughout the book, we encounter brief chapters (normally a couple of pages) that Tammeus calls interludes. He uses these interludes to reflect on both the good and bad of religion (unfortunately the emphasis is on the bad). What he asks has to do with why people use religion to engage in such hateful and deadly acts, whether it's the 9-11 attacks or an attack on a bible study at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The final two chapters of the book explore both the lure of terrorism (chapter 23) and suggested ways of defanging disordered religion. In other words, how can we unplug people from religious extremism? He acknowledges that our religious traditions have elements in their story that can be used to justify terrorism. After all, the men who hijacked the planes that day believed they were acting in accord with Islam. But Islam is not alone in this. Thus, he writes: "across time, however, there have been plenty of examples of people of faith (or perhaps a better description would be people of untrustworthy certitude about religious ideas) terrorizing others who don't share their convictions" (p. 178). In the case of this story, the story 9-11, Islam factors most prominently, and so it receives the majority of his attention, but he makes it clear that Islam is not the only religion that is so affected. In the final chapter, Tammeus offers a series of suggestions that invite readers to "live in relative peace with people who may have radically different ideas from us." (p. 193). He beings with a call to respect and love others and concludes by encouraging the readers to "spend time with people who have experienced profound grief" (p. 205). In between, he asks us to develop religious literacy and study history. But respect, love, and empathy; these are core values that Tammeus hopes we will embrace.
The book is intimate. We enter into the depths of one family’s experience of the attacks and their aftereffects. This includes fragmentation, anger, and grief. We walk with parents who find it difficult to let go while a widow needs to get on with some sense of normalcy for her children (a remarriage and adoption). At times it's more than we as the reader can take. The intimate details of conversations between family members are raw and yet it is powerful. Therefore, by entering into these lives it’s possible that we may find ourselves better able to support and encourage those who deal with similar grief experiences. We might also find ourselves more inclined to commit ourselves to build relationships across religious boundaries that lead to respect and more. While it is at times a rather dark book, Love, Loss and Endurance offers us a pathway of hope for a future free of terrorism and its many casualties.