11 September 2009


What am I thinking about, eight years to the day? Dumb little things I cant forget, like how first sight of the smoking gash triggered something my father told me when I was ten. He worked in the city as the towers took shape, and marveled how WTC was a small city itself, housing 50, 000. So as soon as I saw the gash, I said to my wife, "That's a thousand." I guess that's what you do, early in a far away crisis, to get your arms around it.

I remember Giuliani's remarkable nooner from City Hall, courageously leading us into the horror. Telling the world what it needed to know, and nothing that it didnt, under extraordinary conditions.

I remember watching TV late on the 12th, alone, when a satellite piped in the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, accompanied not by "God Save The Queen", but Sir Francis Scott Key.

Other moments, however, from that first morning require uncommon recall, because for one reason or another, our culture has chosen to make them disappear. One of those things are the jumpers. They are not things, of course. They are people.


Hundreds of functional, mentally stable people, confronted with unbearable choices. If you want to get to the heart of 9/11, to "confront the horror", as Col Kurtz in Apocolypse Now advises, these people are it.


Realtime accounts from that misbegotten morning have since faded. I remember a distraught young man from Clinton, Connecticut, perhaps a broker or agent, trying to answer a reporter's question, "What did you see?" He spoke for minutes, without a breath, fighting an answer at odds with his soul, as if expelling a virus or demon. He had seen jumpers, up close, and would never be the same.

Dust was everywhere, for days, and one evening, a network ran an essay about the dust. They didnt spell it out with an anvil, but the narrator advanced the profoundly disturbing notion that some of the ubiquitous, inevitably inhaled, particles are people.


It was a heavy time, and people cope in different directions, to get on with living. We lean on patriotism, religion and create heroes, to supplant the horror that is extinction without mercy. It is a human response. But it haunts me that if that's all we remember, perhaps we are condemned to relive these horrors.

We are teeming with life, we humans. Busy with who we are. We often soften death by remembering victims as people, smiling in good times. We connect ourselves with their lives, rather than with their demise.

On this paticular day, it's not enough. If we mean "Never again", we should look beyond the lives, to the horrors in my father's "city" that day. Imagine the fire and the flesh. Crumbling walls, floors, alarms and fear. The slow, black death of thick, hot smoke. Broken windows a thousand feet high, stuffed with panicked souls gasping for life.

Dont be afraid to remember. Be afraid of the way they were.

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