“The Falling Man.” 9/11/01
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.
“I’m really a nice person,” he said. “I’m just nervous.” I wrinkled my forehead. “Nervous about what?” I asked. “I’m on my way back home to Florida and they’re on a hurricane watch.” I threw him a smile. “If things aren’t looking good, they won’t allow your flight to leave,” I said. I honestly didn’t know much, but I was just hoping to make him feel better. It made me feel a little warm inside when I saw genuine relief come over his face. “I guess you’re right.”
“And I haven’t felt like myself lately,” he went on. “I just recently lost my wife of 34 years to cancer.” He looked up at me and I saw a nothingness in his eyes. Pure helplessness, complete loss. “I – I’m so sorry.” That was all I could muster. What does one say in situations like these? “I understand”? Because we don’t. We don’t understand. Not at all.
His soup came and awkwardly I continued to make drinks as he took small spoonfuls. After he’d finished he asked for the bill, and it’d left my tongue before I could stop it; “Don’t worry about it,” I said.
“No.” It was a stern no, like my father used to say when I was small and misbehaving, or the no I tell the dog when she’s begging at dinner time. I put my elbows on the bar. “I don’t pity you,” I said. “No one wants that. I’m not doing that here. I just want to do something for you. It’s measly, but it’s something. Because I am so sorry about what you went through.” And that’s when my eyeballs almost dropped a few extra ingredients into the Long Islands I was mixing.
When I put his drink on the bar I thought he had the typical attitude problem, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. My eyes opened wide on a Thursday morning, and I hugged my blessings a little tighter that day because of it.
So I bought this sweet journal today.
I was creepin’ around the mall, specifically for a new nose ring since the little tiny ball on the end of my hoop fell out while I was sleeping. I’m convinced it’s in my brain now; I cannot find this damn thing anywhere. So I found the nose ring and some other jewelry (of course), and wandered into another store where I purchased this gem.
Each freshly lined page is flanked with a quote. Here’s one of my favorites:
“What can we know? What are we all? Poor silly half-brained things peering out at the infinite, with the aspirations of angels and the instincts of beasts.” – Arthur Conan Doyle
I’d love if I could get this printed on the back of a tee-shirt and wear it to work every day. Every blank page is encouragement not just to vent, but to make that day’s “definitive conclusion about humanity” (four boxes with four different pictures below them: thumbs up, peace sign, thumbs down, middle finger). I scrawled a few paragraphs down and quickly checked the “middle finger” box. The top of each page reads like this: “WHY PEOPLE ARE LIKE THAT TODAY:”. I won’t share my writings in detail (they aren’t so nice) but I will share my conclusion:
“People suck. Hell is d-bag customers, morons who act like they’ve never been in public before. ‘People are like that today’ to piss me off.”
Don’t worry, the vino has put me back in my happy place. All hostile-ness aside, this journal is probably a good thing. I’ll jot down what annoys me and attempt to turn it around. Why is that person the way they are? Maybe something happened. Who knows what they’re going through? I don’t know them, they don’t know me. Maybe that woman cut me off because her husband is in the hospital and she’s just trying to get to him faster. Does it make it okay? Maybe not, but it might make me feel better to consider this. I’m still working on deciding why customers flail their hands and demand drinks ahead of others because they have a “plane to catch” in an airport, or why they answer my “how are you” with “HEINEKEN”. No really, I’m smiling right now.
Anyway, I suggest this thing to anyone. Let’s try to channel our anger and turn it into something positive. Plus it gives us some awesome blogging material, right?