Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Reading Across Rhode Island

As some of you know, I'm on the nominating committee for Reading Across Rhode Island (RARI). This year I was so please when the committee chose Rhode Island native, Craig Mullaney's amazing memoir The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education. When I saw this book on the list of nominated books my immediate reaction was that I had no interest in reading a "war book" and would wait to see if was eliminated in early discussions before committing to reading it. During our first session, another member of the group stated that she had the read book (even though she was sure she wouldn't be interested) and that it was fabulous. That got me curious. I decided to read it before our next meeting. And it made a very positive impression on me. At our next meeting there were several of us who had read the book and we all gushed about what a wonderful choice it would be for RARI. The rest is history.

This past weekend was the official celebration for The Unforgiving Minute. I had the great fortune of being invited to attend a reception for Mullaney on Friday night at his alma mater, Bishop Hendricken High School (a Catholic HS for boys). It was an extremely informal affair and I had a chance to talk briefly with him and have him sign my book. I told him how much I enjoyed his book and that I was strong supporter of it as our RARI selection. He was very gracious and humble. Then on Saturday I attended RARI's culminating event, the May Breakfast, in which Mullaney appeared and gave a talk to 425 enthusiastic readers. I attended the event with 10 members from my two book clubs. Part of the May Breakfast is also a food drive for a local pantry and participants are encouraged to bring canned goods and use them to create a centerpiece for their table. This year one of the women from the library book club, Donna, created a centerpiece that was reminiscent of one of the photographs from the book. She finished setting it up before the breakfast officially began and it immediately caught Mullaney's eye. He came right over to our table and spent the next 20 minutes talking to Donna, her husband Joe and the other members of our group. He even graciously agreed to pose for photos. It was very exciting. In the four years that I have been attending these events, no author has ever come into the crowd to visit with participants! We were all thrilled.

He then went on to give a very moving talk about the lessons he learned during his years at West Point, Ranger School, and at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He also explained to us how those lessons prepared him to lead a platoon in Afghanistan. He spoke emotionally about the deep toll the loss of one of his men had on him and stated that writing the book was really his letter to that young man's parents. This was the first time I have been moved to tears at a RARI breakfast. He also spoke eloquently of personal responsibility, responsibility for others and responsibility to our communities. He summed up this sense of responsibility when he remembered the words of one of the men who trained him at Ranger School - "It's not about you". Mullaney related to us how the full force of those words hit him when he was told of the final words uttered by the soldier in his platoon as he lay dying. Private O'Neill asked, "How are the other guys?" It's not about you. Quite a powerful message.

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