Although I work in an airport, Thursday didn’t surround me with many reminders of what day it was. Maybe most feel uncomfortable mentioning it while dozens of planes fly down the runway in front of them. Should we go on as if nothing is out of place?
I lay on my couch yesterday evening, watching YouTube videos of live footage from September 11, 2001. It’s strange, how sometimes we want to hurt; we throw ourselves into the carnage and wait for the tears to come. Sometimes it helps to remember, to let our hearts break all over again. So that’s what I did. I watched the most painful videos I could find, and I made myself hurt at an age where I could comprehend. I was only thirteen then, and that day was a blur of 9AM gym class and wondering why we were sent home early.
In the midst of my search I came across The Falling Man. We’re all familiar with one of the most disturbing details of that day – the thought that it was so bad up there, so hopeless, that dozens found another way “out”. I pressed play and watched this stranger tumble from a window. An interview with someone who had seen the video said it wasn’t a serene fall. He rolled several times, he propelled his arms and legs; the wind pulled off his button-up, revealing an orange t-shirt underneath. Someone’s son, someone’s friend, perhaps someone’s father.
When I look at the photograph above I ask myself unexpected questions. The shoes he’s wearing – where did he buy them? Were they new? I wonder what it felt like, suspended in air on a September morning, free falling down the side of the World Trade Center instead of sipping on coffee or watching the news.
When we tuck ourselves into bed at night we don’t prepare for disaster. We lay out our clothes or drink a glass of wine and pray for Friday to come fast. But sometimes we have to choose whether jumping or turning to dust is best for us.
For me, The Falling Man is the purest symbol of one of the most tragic occurrences in American history. This stranger reminds us never to go to sleep angry. Kiss our loved ones. Eat well and drink well. Never take a single day for granted. Tomorrow may hold one of the hardest decisions we’ll ever have to make.