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A Tragedy Recreated: Reading “Clap When You Land”

As I was reading the last few chapters of “Clap When You Land” news broke of a horrible plane crash in Pakistan that I can’t help but find similar to the crash that acts as a catalyst in Elizabeth Acevedo’s novel.

The crash that inspired Acevedo was Flight 587, which due to pilot error and mechanical failure, crashed in the Belle Harbor neighborhood of Queens shortly after take off.

The flight was en route to the capital of the Dominican Republic, and as Acevedo writes in her author’s notes at the end of the novel, ninety percent of the passengers were of Dominican descent, many of whom were returning home. She shares her personal experience as a young girl as the New York Dominican community was shattered.

Twenty years later, Acevedo was able to use that tragedy and the stories from her community that came out of the event to craft a poetic novel of family, of resilience and the strength that can be found when one is able to meet their history head on, even if in grief or anger or betrayal, and make it their own.

Now, in a city on the other side of the world, another plane destined for another capital city has crashed into a heavily populated area. Mechanical failure is again seemingly to blame, with reports of malfunctioning landing gear preventing a safe landing at the nearby airport.

But that certainly won’t comfort the families of the 99 people on board or the dozens believed to have been killed on the ground. Families who, like Acevedo’s main characters, will oscillate between denial and hope and heartbreaking grief in the weeks ahead.

One further tragedy of Flight 587 is how it was overshadowed by 9/11 as it occurred two months and one day after that event. When the cause of the crash was ruled pilot error and not terrorism the story seemed to be abandoned by the media and many of us not affected by it probably have little or no memory of it even happening.

I would hope that our memory of Flight PK8303, overshadowed this time by a global pandemic, is not so short as it was in 2001. But as Acevedo proves by so powerfully and poetically capturing the dynamic and turbulent grieving process of her characters, and her own memories and experiences two decades ago, there will always be those who remember, who transform their memory and heartbreak into something tangible and shareable, and in doing so welcome those of us not touched directly by tragedy into their community.

Watching the Short Film, “The Funeral”

ActsidersYou may remember a while back when I shared an episode of the podcast Actsiders that featured an interview with Ali Nasser. He discussed being an international actor and having a multifaceted career that spans cultures as easily as it does genres and artistic mediums.

If you haven’t listened to Ali on Actsiders, check it out, and then subscribe to and listen to the rest of the episodes. When you’ve finished all that, jump over to YouTube and watch a short film by Ahsan Minhas that Ali recently starred in called “The Funeral.”

In a very brief glimpse into his character’s life, we are able to see a man struggling to balance the success that will define his future and the relationships that represent his past. Having listened to the Actsiders interview and knowing Ali as an Egyptian-born/New York-based actor who is so rooted in both worlds by the relationships and career paths he’s cultivated, I may be seeing a deeper duality than was intended by either actor or writer/director. More than likely however, that was precisely what was intended, as this film sought to convey not only the intimate grief of one man, but the constant struggle between the almost split personalities our modern lives break us into.

In everyday life, even when there isn’t a death or culminating milestone event, aren’t we all constantly being pulled in different directions, whether by responsibilities, expectations, promises, dreams?

How can we balance it all? The mantra of ‘work hard, hard’ that was meant to symbolize a hard day’s work to pay for a fulfilling personal life has been cast aside in today’s world as we find ourselves always working, always connected, always moving.  And always falling short.

How can we be good men and women, good mothers, fathers, children and siblings, good friends, good bosses, coworkers, good Muslims, Christians, believers of any faith, good creators and consumers? How can we balance what we give with what we receive?  How can we be good people and good enough? And how do we keep up the strength to be all of those things that we expect of ourselves when we have failed at one of them.

I hope you’ll watch the film, and if you have the time, check out Ahsan’s other work, which I found just as interesting and thought provoking.

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