~The following was inspired by watching the 2006 documentary The Falling Man. A link to it is below, it deals directly with the victims of 9/11 those who fell and/or jumped from the towers. If such things are too disturbing for you I recommend you don’t read further and you don’t watch the documentary. ~
When 9/11 happened I was living in Oak Ridge Tennessee. I knew it was historical and like my mother had with the JFK assassination I designated a box to collect magazines and newspapers of the event. I knew some day Aaron would ponder what that day was like from his adult eyes and not from those of a second grader. I remembered how seeing the whole papers, whole magazines from that time of the assassination didn’t just give me the perspective of how it effected the nation but just what was the nation at that time. The first thing in my box was the before issues – September 10th’s paper, Newsweek and Time from the week before. Then came the day of and later in the same magazines and papers.
Some things I only glanced through once and tucked them away. They were too painful to deal with right then. My focus then was my family and assuring my son life was going to be okay. I focused on keeping a normal routine. I still have the day at Aaron’s soccer practice when the first plane flew over head after the tragedy. Practice grew silent and we all looked up. Then coach blew her whistle and life started again – different but the same. I’ve always thought you honor the dead by living well. We acknowledge that that day but not in words it was in our deeds.
One of the images that stuck with me was the one that was to come to be known as The Falling Man. It was one I didn’t ponder much until later when I sealed up that box to move here to Wisconsin. It was the one image I sought to see again before sealing the box. I remember sitting looking at it and considering the choices the man had – to burn, to suffocate, or to jump. I pondered what I would choose. Fire, burning to death is one of my nightmarish fears. Having had breathing disorders suffocation comes close to fire in nightmare but I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to struggle for breath and not get it. Jumping – I’ve always contended that suicide is a cowards way out but in the face of certain death is it? or then is it taking responsibility for your life on your hands? I knew then I’d never really know what choice I would make in such a situation until I was there and then, there would be no way to leave an explanation to those left why I chose what I did.
I don’t judge those who jumped that day. I think it isn’t something to fear or be ashamed of a loved one choosing. I know for me I couldn’t worship a god that required me to burn or suffocate to death – taking jumping off the table. Then again that’s personal, that’s my answer only designed to fit my soul – your results may vary. I do know that for me the jumpers are a part of the harsh truth about the tragedy. They aren’t to be hidden any more than the horrible images of war, genocide, or anything else like that are to be hidden. They are there and I do think when we are personally ready we need to face them.
Why face them? Because I think good can come from the horror and pain those people experienced. I think that gives some slight meaning and value to their suffering. If we look such things in the eye and vow never again will I allow man’s actions to cause such horror again then a positive change has been made. If I look at it and come to peace with my own mortality no matter the method it comes – I value life more and good has come from it. If such images inspire care for those injured, desire to protect those who are weak, help for those who are trapped – all improve humanity. If they are hidden and denied we deny those in the images a chance to use the worst moment of their life to make a positive change in the world.
I don’t know if I could be like the husband who found peace when he found the image of his wife falling. I can’t say how I’d feel finding an image of Mike falling to his death. It cuts too close to the bone – no, to the heart. I can say I find a serenity in the man’s peace from his knowledge. A deep comfort that I am thankful he found.
For me the jumper is all of us on that day – falling from a normal day to a changed world in just a few tragic seconds. There in that fall as the events unfolded we rolled, we tumbled, and we tried to find the zen acceptance that seems to be in the picture. I see him heading head first into fate with peaceful resolve – knowing no matter what put him in the air he left something behind for all of us – the image of the unknown victim of 9/11, just like the tomb of the unknown solider it is a place where we all can contemplate the victims of the day, the changes from that day, and what we can do when fate gives us untenable choices.