Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust at Ground Zero | Chapter 18 of 34

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9

RUNNING
WITH ROSELLE

Faith is taking the first step even when
you don’t see the whole staircase.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

Waves of people approach. First, the paramedics. “Thank you, but we’re fine. No injuries here.”

Next come the television reporters, asking for comments, but we are still in flight mode, and we keep moving. People fill the streets, streaming in all directions.

We pause for a moment on the southwest corner of Broadway and Ann, about a hundred yards away from Tower 2, the South Tower. David takes out his camera to take a picture of the gray and black smoke billowing upward from the towers while I try to reach Karen on my cell phone to let her know we are safe. All I can get, though, is an “All circuits are busy” message. We learned later that that the overloading of the cellular phone system was due to the many trapped people on the upper floors calling loved ones to say good-bye.

We still don’t know exactly what happened to cause the explosion and the fires. We won’t find out until later that the blaze in the towers is so intense it is reaching temperatures as high as 2,000 degrees and generating heat equivalent to three to five times the energy output of a nuclear power plant.1 Fireproofing, sprinkler systems, and the water supply for fire hoses have been knocked out, although the fire is so extensive that sprinklers might not be much help anyway. The plane’s impact between the 78th and 84th floors destroyed exterior columns and may have also damaged interior columns and the floor plate. The floors near the impact suffered severe damage. But the fire is the key problem, heating up the structure to a critical point. Molten aluminum from the plane is flowing down the side of the building opposite the initial impact.

It’s 9:59 a.m., just over an hour since we left our offices. David puts away his camera, and I am closing up my cell phone, unable to reach Karen, when a police officer screams, “Get out of here! It’s coming down!”

The South Tower emits a deep rumble that becomes a deafening roar. I hear glass breaking and metal tearing, accompanied by a chorus of shrill and terrified screams. I will never forget that sound as long as I live. It was like a cross between a freight train and a waterfall of breaking glass.

A floor up in the southeast corner started the ball rolling with a partial collapse, along with columns along the east face buckling near the floor from south to north. Then the top of the building twisted to the east and south, crashing downward and taking successive floors out like dominoes. The South Tower was down in just ten seconds in a cacophonous waterfall of glass, steel, and people.

The impact creates a vibration that travels through my feet and up my legs, and the street feels like a trampoline bouncing. A jolt of fear rips through me and my throat freezes; I can’t even scream.

David cries, “Oh, my God!” and starts running. In a split second’s time I swing 180 degrees, lifting Roselle up bodily and spinning around with a death grip on her harness, and we break into a run too. We are running for our lives. No one is helping anyone anymore.

Except for Roselle and me. We are still there for each other.

Rocks, metal, and glass fall around us, and small hard objects pelt my head and face.

For the second time today, I think that I might die, this time without even being able to say good-bye to Karen.

Many people did perish in the streets surrounding the towers, crushed by the falling building, flattened by debris, or blasted by the shock wave. There were eyewitness reports of eight-ton steel I-beams tumbling end over end. Cars launched through the air along with chunks of concrete, metal ductwork, and shards of glass. One report tells of an EMT firefighter who survived while a flying I-beam killed his partner right next to him.

Roselle and I run away from the noise. I don’t understand why this is happening. My heart cries out to God in anguish.

How could you get us out of the building only to have it fall on us?

As soon as I silently scream out the question, God answers. I hear his voice inside my head and my heart. He speaks directly to me.

Don’t worry about what you cannot control. Focus on running with Roselle, and the rest will take care of itself.

I’d never before heard God’s voice so close and so clearly. Immediately I feel peace and a sense of protection. My mind and my heart begin to settle down, and I start to focus on Roselle. The harness feels solid in my hand, and our bond is sure.

But now I am stronger and more confident. I know beyond any shadow of a doubt that God is directing me just as I direct Roselle.

The noise becomes more intense, debris showering the streets. We reach Fulton Street, which we had crossed only a few moments before. After turning right on Fulton, David and I somehow find each other, and we stop for a moment, all of us panting from the adrenaline-powered flight. It turns out he had run in the same direction.

Then comes the cloud.

A monstrous dust cloud three hundred feet high roars at us, enveloping us in a thick, toxic blanket of smoke, gases, vapors, and pulverized concrete dust. The cloud moves too fast and we cannot get away. We’re blasted with sand and gravel.

My body tenses up but there is nothing else to do but inhale. The dust and debris fill my throat and my lungs. I am drowning, trying to breathe through dirt. The dust is so thick I can feel it going down my throat every time I take a breath. I feel like I’m dying, the dust filling up my body and choking the life out of me.

Somehow I hang on to Roselle’s harness and we keep moving. Roselle is right alongside, guiding perfectly. She never stops.

Guide dogs are specially bred and trained to focus. When they are first received from the puppy raisers and brought back to the Guide Dogs for the Blind school for training with a certified guide dog instructor, each dog is given a temperament assessment during which the instructors note the dog’s reaction to different situations such as run-ins with other dogs and cats, exposure to food, noise, and other circumstances likely to produce anxiety in the average dog. Fifty percent of the puppies wash out. Dogs who maintain concentration and focus move forward in the training; they have the potential to do well in the intensive months-long course of guide dog training.

Roselle passed that test back when she was a puppy, demonstrating the intelligence and steadfastness I need now. Enveloped in the cloud, she continues to work and to guide even though her eyes, nose, and mouth are full of dust and debris too. Roselle’s guide dog training could never have prepared her for anything like this, but she is brave and she does not quit; instead, she uses whatever senses she can muster to watch out for me.

Whatever happens, whether we live or whether we die, we are in this together. If we don’t make it out alive, I hope we stay together, my hand on Roselle’s harness. I will never let go.

1

In tough times one of my favorite biblical passages is Psalm 23, and the older I get, the more I realize that life isn’t just about green pastures and still water. Just like in the psalm, life also includes hot, dusty roads; deserts; enemies; and sometimes, fire.

Psalm 23

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;

For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

All the days of my life;

And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

My dad taught me to love God. Not only did we spend a lot of time over the years working together on electronics, math, scouting, and doing ham radio but we also talked about bigger things like: Who created the universe? Why are we here? Who is in control? What is the purpose of life? I could bring just about any question to my dad and he was willing to talk to me about it. In a lot of ways, we were kindred spirits.

My father did a lot of reading on Christianity, and he read to me often. When I was in fourth grade, I came home from school one day to find several big boxes waiting for me. Inside was a Braille Bible, King James Version, in eighteen large volumes. It takes up almost five feet of shelf space and still occupies prime real estate in my home office.

My mother was Jewish, and her ideas about religion tended to be wrapped up in Jewish holidays and challah and chicken soup with delicious matzo balls. She never attended synagogue, but she did go to church with us at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Palmdale. I sang tenor in the choir and we attended services every Sunday, although I sometimes found the sermons boring. Rather than sitting and listening to the preacher, I liked exploring the Bible on my own and having discussions with my dad. Our talks ranged all over the place, and we talked about different faiths and ways that people worshipped God. But for me, faith always comes back to a friendship with God.

“There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful than that of a continual conversation with God,” said Brother Lawrence. A lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris, Brother Lawrence wrote The Practice of the Presence of God about maintaining a profound awareness of God moment by moment, no matter the situation.

On the ground in desperate flight from the collapsing tower is not the first time I prayed on September 11. I started praying up in the tower after the first explosion, listening for anything God had to say. Just as listening is the most important part of successful selling, it is also the most important part of prayer. It’s how I try to live my life, constantly asking, Am I doing the right thing? Is this what I’m supposed to do? Is this the right path to take?

Looking to God for direction is where Psalm 23 starts. Its first words are a simple statement of trust in God with “The Lord is my shepherd.” In fact, the whole psalm is one of trust, a vow to put oneself in the hands of the living God.

The psalm’s author, David, had been a shepherd in his youth, just like my father, so the psalm is very special to me. But the shepherd-and-sheep image also reminds me of the relationship between my guide dog and me. Everything hinges on Roselle’s initial acceptance of me as her leader. While she helps me in very important ways by keeping me out of holes and making sure I don’t walk in front of a speeding electric car (which doesn’t make much noise), it is ultimately my job to plan out our route and to direct her. If she doesn’t trust me as her shepherd and respond to my tugs on her harness or my verbal commands, our relationship can’t work.

Because Roselle and I are a team, I take care of her. I provide for her wants with food and water, usually in the evenings, in order to minimize her need to relieve herself during the day, especially during long days of air or train travel. She isn’t allowed to eat from the table at home or in restaurants. This is a constant temptation for her because many people would like to feed her, and I often have to turn down succulent bits of steak and chicken from well-meaning restaurant owners and servers.

Roselle’s fear of thunderstorms reminds me of my dad telling me about how fearful sheep are, afraid of anything new or unexpected. Sheep can’t sleep and won’t eat unless they feel safe and secure. They’re also afraid of fast-moving water, so it’s up to the shepherd to find quiet, comfortable places, green pastures, and still waters where the sheep can sleep, eat, and drink. During thunderstorms, Roselle’s safe haven was under my desk in the basement at home, her head on my feet. When the South Tower suddenly gave way and we were overtaken by the airborne dust and debris, we needed a sanctuary too.

Because Roselle trusts me and because we’ve worked together enough to become a team and to know each other’s habits, she listens to my voice. When I correct her, she stops and listens, trying to figure out what I want her to do. It’s the same with the shepherd. As the relationship grows, the sheep learn to follow his voice “in the paths of righteousness.” Then, when difficult times come and the sheep have to walk through dangerous situations, God is there, guiding.

When he worked as a shepherd, my dad used a rod and staff to guide and protect the sheep. I have my white cane and the guide dog harness instead. God uses more sophisticated and even mysterious ways to guide and protect, but even though I don’t always understand how he works, I am comforted and confident knowing that he is at work in my life.

When the day ends and Roselle’s harness comes off, she can rest. She knows she’s part of the family, and she has her own bed, her own dog toys and chew bone, and her own food and water bowl. When work is over, she can play, eat, and relax. She is an important part of our family, just as I’m an important part of God’s family and an honored guest at God’s table. Even when there are enemies about, I can eat and drink of God’s goodness in safety at his side. I am special to him.

I’ve had many other dogs, but there is only one Roselle. And I know her. I know the feel of her ears and her neck, the nudge of her nose against my hand, and the lean of her powerful body against my calf. I know the sound of her happy bark, her drowsy snore, and her sad little whine. She was specially trained and set apart for me by Guide Dogs for the Blind, and she is unique. There is no other guide dog, or any dog, exactly like her.

And God knows me. He made me. He has studied me and watched over me, and he loves me. He “anoints my head with oil.” In the Middle East, hosts used to anoint their honored guests at banquets with oil on their hair and beards; it was meant to invigorate and refresh. Anointing also could be used to set someone aside as holy or sacred, meant for a special purpose. Part of the fun and challenge of living has been discovering my purpose. What was I designed for? How can I use what I have learned and the experiences I’ve been through to help others? Roselle knows her purpose. I am still discovering and living out mine.

God’s goodness and mercy follow me every day, like the shepherd follows after his sheep. He pursues each one until he brings it safely home, as in the story told by Jesus of the shepherd who left his flock of ninety-nine to find one lost sheep, rejoicing when he found and rescued it.

I heard a story about a man visiting Yellowstone National Park with his dog. They were hiking among the mineral springs, some of which contain water superheated by geothermal forces above the boiling point to temperatures of two hundred degrees Fahrenheit and above. He unleashed his dog, which promptly ran off and jumped into one of the springs. The dog yelped and began to struggle as the water seared his flesh. His owner hesitated for a moment then jumped in after his dog. There is no happy ending to this story; both perished. But I have always remembered the man’s extravagant love for his dog and his decision to chance death in the boiling water.

When the tower fell and I cried out to God, his answer gave me hope. When God is for us, who can be against us? There is hope for the future. I am part of God’s family, and “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

I didn’t tell anyone about my encounter with God that day under the shadow of the tower. I didn’t tell anyone the next day or even the next week. It was such a powerful moment, so intimate and so personal, that I didn’t share it with anyone for three or four years. I wanted to be able to present it right, and I didn’t want it to be some hokey, manipulative thing. I didn’t want to wear my miracle on my sleeve. I prayed about what to do, and slowly, as time passed, I grew more comfortable talking about my life-and-death moment, my desperate cry, and God’s response, and it slowly became a public part of my story. Some people might not believe it or might judge it wishful thinking or something that came out of my own heart and mind. Some people might even get angry, knowing that God didn’t answer the same prayers offered up by others. But he did answer mine.

I found out later that other people were praying for me that day besides Karen. A dear friend of ours, the Reverend K. Cherie Jones, was pastor of Atascadero United Methodist Church in California’s Central Coast. We met her when she was pastoring a church in San Marcos, California, close to where we lived. We three hit it off and began a lifelong friendship, growing very close when a good friend of Cherie’s was brutally murdered by her ex-husband. Her friend’s body was discovered six months later, and it was two and a half years before the murderer was sent to prison. Karen and I stayed in close contact with Cherie during that difficult time, exchanging countless e-mails, phone calls, and prayers as she grieved.

On September 11, Cherie happened to wake up at 6:15 a.m. and flipped on the TV, as usual, to check the local news and weather. But something strange was going on. Instead of the familiar faces of the morning news anchors, Katie Couric and the Today Show people were on, along with startling images of New York City on fire. It had been about thirty minutes since the first explosion and just fifteen minutes since the second. Cherie was confused. The Today show isn’t supposed to be on, she thought. Then she thought of two people: me, wondering if I still worked in the WTC, and a parishioner who was a pilot for Delta Airlines with a regular West to East Coast route.

Cherie began to pray for both of us, for the emergency responders, and for the other people in the towers. She called the pilot’s wife and found out he was on the ground, safe. Next she tried Karen to see if I was okay but couldn’t get through.

Then she got down to business. Cherie started calling her prayer warriors to work the church directories. “You take pages 1 and 2; call everybody and tell them to pray and then meet us at the church at 9 a.m.,” she told the first one. She kept calling, dividing up the work of contacting the congregation, then headed over to the church. Forty people ended up joining her, and they began to pray for us, for the people in the towers and the Pentagon, for those still in the air, and for the city and the nation. The United States was under attack, and no one knew what was going to happen next. But God certainly knew, and he was hearing a lot about it from the people of Atascadero.

When Cherie first started praying for us, David, Roselle, and I were in the stairwell on about the 10th floor. When she started calling people, we were out on the street, fleeing the towers. When the South Tower collapsed, she saw it on TV and began praying for me in earnest, not knowing if I was still inside or not. I may just owe my life to my wife, my family, my friends, and a woman out on the West Coast in her pajamas, praying for me by name as Roselle and I walked through the valley of the shadow of death.

1

Sometimes walking, sometimes running, we stay on the sidewalk and move west on Fulton Street, searching for a refuge. I can barely breathe, but I can still hear, and I listen for an opening. I keep telling Roselle, “Right . . . right,” hoping she will find an open doorway. She listens, and through the harness I can tell she is looking. I don’t know if she can see anything, but I’m trusting she will use her nose and her ears to find an opening for us.

We have to get out of the dust or we are going to die. But even in the dust cloud, with my guide dog now blind, too, I feel God’s presence. He is with me. I am not alone. I am running with Roselle.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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