Angel in the Rubble - Genelle Guzman-McMillan - Underneath the Towers of the World Trade Center
Genelle Guzman-McMillan was the last person to be pulled out alive from the rubble that was the World Trade Centre twin towers in New York City, the place we now know as Ground Zero. Trapped in a concrete mausoleum hidden under multiple layers of destroyed building materials some two or three storeys high, her head and legged squeezed perilously between pieces of debris, she lay there slowly dying for 27 hours, until she felt a man take her hand and tell her that everything was going to be allright. Incredibly relieved, she spoke to this gentle man called Paul until the rescuers pulled away the concrete and steel and finally freed her.
The only trouble is that there was no Paul - there was no-one holding her hand for hours and providing her with comfort and reassurance. Genelle had just had a spiritual experience, and in this touching book she attempts to come to terms with it.
I am easily affected by emotional stories, and Angel in the Rubble was no different, leaving me terrified, exalted and ultimately inspired by the tale of the incredible feats that human beings are capable of enduring. What's different here, of course, is that Guzman-McMillan (an illegal immigrant from Barbados at the time of the attack) says that human endurance had nothing to do with it. She says that she was saved by God, purely and simply, an that this random, seemingly impossible, rescue was the message she needed to stop wasting her life and to go on and become the best and most loving person she was capable of being.
Now, I can hear the sceptics moaning and rolling their eyes already, but I would also bluntly point out that until you've spent 27 hours being slowly crushed by concrete blocks, perhaps you should refrain from pouring scorn on someone who has. I believe that extraordinary experiences do imbue a kind of wisdom on someone, no matter how humble their origins or education. And Guzman-McMillan makes no special claimes to wisdom or even spirituality. She still works a clerical job at the Port Authority, the office she was in when the Towers collapsed. But her experience changed her in an absolutely fundamental way. She became a woman of deep and unmoveable faith, convinced of the truth of her supernatural experience.
As well as being an incredible page-turner, Angel in the Rubble is quite constantly inspiring. Guzman-McMillan believes quite simply that she was saved through the power of prayer, and that it was this power that allowed her to be here today, telling her story and living her transformation. Her brush with death re-focused her life, allowing her to live for others instead of concentrating solely on her own pleasures and pettiness.
And it serves as a fascinating testament to the deep torments of survivior guilt. This isn't a glib "Jesus saved me" text. Guzman-McMillan writes candidly about the mental and spiritual conflicts she experiences as a humble and unimportant person who survived when thousands of others perished. She writes:
"...the toughest challenge I dealt with was the question that the psychiatrist never posed, one that was mentally bogging me down more and more with each passing day:
Angel in the Rubble is really her attempt to answer that simple but incredibly profound question. And more than that, it hopefully inspires the reader to ask the same question of themselves: in the face of suffering, torment and misfortune, why have I been allowed this incredible privilege of being alive? And what am I doing with it?
Don't read this book if you're cynical, or if God-language bothers you. But if you are looking to be inspired, if you can expand your mind to include someone else's possibilities, and if you really feel as though you ought to be doing more with your life, then this is the book for you.
A beautiful read.