How can you not remember that day? September 11, 2001. I think time stood still for several hours; at least it did for me. Let me back up a bit before I get into this particular piece. So my eldest child has been sick this week with some crazy virus. Therefore my hours have been off and I found myself searching the other night for something to watch on television. Flip on Hulu and search “documentaries,” there you go–9/11 and the “Falling Man” piece popped up. I immediately became obsessed. This date resonates with me, as it probably does with most of my generation. It was a day that will and can never be forgotten by our country. Whatever your stance may be for the actions taken after this day, you can’t ignore the utter despair and loss that was felt on September 11, 2001.
The documentary I watched the other evening was addressed the “Falling Man.” Now, if you were alive and older than say, seventeen, then you may or may not remember the “Falling Man” picture that escaped some news markets during the time of 9/11. I remember that picture vividly. I was 22 years old, living in an amazing city with the world at my feet. Life was supposed to be footloose and carefree at this point. I was to find myself after a strenuous academic career and really just learn what made me tick. Life was good and I was working, having fun until…reality. Some terrorist, for reasons unfathomable to me, decided to wreak havoc on my country. In turn, this meant it wreaked havoc on me, my generation, those before me and after me.
I sit in my kitchen typing tonight and I still feel the same despair, anguish and anger of that day. I had come out of an early morning meeting only to discover the world had changed in a matter of moments. I worked in public relations at the time, simply a post-graduate position, learning the ropes of the industry in a big city so I could eventually move up in this particular world I loved. I had high hopes, dreams and expectations, as does any college graduate who has worked their ass off to get where they are in life. I accomplished this feat, so when 9/11 occurred I almost felt the rug pulled from beneath me. I remember following other co-workers into my boss’ office to view the television. It was 8:25 A.M. central time and the first tower had been hit, followed by the second. We all watched in horror, listening to the news commentary going on at the moment. How could this possibly be happening? Then it did; the first tower fell and I remember looking over at my boss and telling him, “this is my generation’s D-day. This will be our Vietnam.” And it was this mayhem, and it still is this reality in today’s society. My grandfather fought in WWII, my father fought in Vietnam and Desert Storm…so I know a bit about military history. The good fight we wanted to have in this situation was, and may never be, fully achieved.
Being a solid American patriot, I love history and when I saw the documentary on the “Falling Man” I knew it was a piece of my history I wanted explored and explained. Do you remember this picture? We all heard accounts on newscasts about bodies falling from the World Trade Center, hitting vehicles and such below. None of this was shown on camera, but some clips you could hear it happen. And here was a photographer who happened to capture a moment of someone’s life and decided to tell it. “The Morning Call” out of Allentown, PA was the publication to show it (one of my college roommates was from Allentown) on their publication dated September 12, 2001.
According to the documentary, people in the community were appalled to see such an image. Yet, I remember the first time I saw it in a publication (I think it might have been Time Magazine). The image brought tears to my eyes, and it still makes me have that “ugly cry face” we all hate to show others.
It was not disgraceful to me, or dishonoring a life. It was reality; a moment in time I can never fully comprehend. Bodies falling and hanging out of a burning building…who am I to judge their actions? These are individuals who were mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents and the list goes on and on. So, who am I to judge their actions, their decisions at that particular moment when I was tucked safely away in an office in downtown Dallas, Texas watching this entire event happening from a television?
Questions came up in the aftermath of their faith, their Christianity, and asking the world why they would make such decisions. I am a Christian and I believe God is in everything I do, but I also believe He was with those individuals that day as they were hanging out of smoke-filled windows, gasping for air while praying for an answer. Do I think these people committed suicide? I am not arrogant enough to make that judgment call, and I leave that one up to my God. Perhaps this is why I am always sobbing whenever I see or think about images of falling people from the Towers. Because I know these people had just gone to work on a “normal” day, telling their loved ones good-bye, see you later…only to find themselves hanging hundreds of stories above the ground with burning fuel and smoke around them. No, I don’t judge these individuals and I whole-heartedly believe the God I love and cherish so much does not hold it against them either. That kind of judgment is a “worldly” assumption, not a Heavenly one.
In this documentary I learned about the quest to find the identity of this one falling man, a man who represented so many others, and the setbacks that went along with this journey. Obviously it was not an easy one to make, and took several years and a few mistakes until it reached completion. But eventually it was made and the man was Jonathan Briley. He was a worker at the Windows of the World, and the last moments of his life were made into Pulitzer Prize material. And yet, it still brings tears to my eyes because this man was so loved by his family and so strong in his Faith, yet he still made the jump. His decision and his time, all with the Creator he held so dear to his heart, came together in just under 10 seconds. A moment, have you ever thought about your own life in such a short timeframe?
The controversy that surrounded this one photograph involved disgust, like anyone viewing it became an individual dishonoring the person, based on some voyeuristic appearance. But in reality, when you really think deep and hard, is that what you see? Is that what you feel? It is NOT something I feel when I see these images. I see a PERSON, in their last MOMENTS, coming to peace with what God had put before them. At that moment there was no blame or finger pointing, it was just about this one person in his or her last moments. It was ugly, sad, beautiful, peaceful and mournful all at once. How many situations in life can we witness such a deluge of emotions and representations all in a matter of seconds?
This one image of a falling man, AKA Jonathan Briley, represented so many that day in terms of lives lost. The men, women and even children that perished without a choice; it was this representation of life lost, families destroyed and chaos released amongst the masses that captured the heart of America. But there was such a story to be told with those who fell from the windows of the World Trade Center.
I go back to the image I began this piece with, a man simply falling. He is not struggling, yet instead, he is shown in a poise that exudes grace and simplicity. One knee bent, the other leg casually straight. It was as if he was taking a dive off some high dive at some no-name high school swimming pool. Behind him you could see the image of the concrete windows of the Tower. So you knew, going in and looking, that this was no ordinary jump. And it made you question, did it not, your own existence and how much control you have over it? We are given choices in everyday life, but what we do with those choices is what makes all the difference in the world.
Do I shun the people who jumped from the Towers that awful day in recent American history? Absolutely not, and I can say that in the strongest of faith. I think the moments we saw makes us really step back and look at how we address tragedy, reality and where we exist in between all of it. It deals with the toughest choices in life. The jumpers were not heretics or anti-Christian. They were simple people given a choice. I whole-heartedly believe they made their peace with God and that last fall was with Him. He was there, holding their hand, walking them to Paradise because the choices to get there were awful. Burn alive or jump…what would you do? What would we all do?
This piece is not to drag you down, make you feel guilty or insignificant. It is a piece to make you think long and hard before you judge. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes and see what you would do in a situation. One thing I have learned in my life is to not judge, to not jump to conclusions, but to really evaluate the situation on all levels. Does this make me stupid or incoherent? I don’t think so, simply because life has made me really do this action. Step back and put yourself in the shoes of the person you attempt to judge. Maybe that is why I get so choked up when it comes to 9/11 and the Jumpers. I feel they got a bad wrap as weaklings and agnostics. But in reality, when we are faced with such dire situations, what would you do? None of us really know until we have flames and smoke licking at our own ankles.
Take the story of the Falling Man as a lesson to not judge, or pre-judge someone or some situation until you have fully lived it. Until you have fully breathed its last agonizing breathe. Do not judge, and remember to believe in something bigger than you…something that can make the lasting impression on those around you in society. My belief is that God is with me every step of the way. Whatever tickles your fancy on the spiritual realm, one thing must hold true and that is we are all humans surviving in this world. Please let love and honor hold you higher than anything else you may feel. Love God, Love Others and Make Disciples. #lglomd.org