This past week was a time of reflection and rumination as we marked the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pen- tagon and the downing of United 93. Time has eased some of the wounds of that horrible day, yet the terror of that moment in our history still re- mains vivid for those of us who re- member.
I was at Borgia at the time and for some reason our internet and our TV’s were down. We heard a strange story about a plane hitting the World Trade Center, but I figured it was a small plane. Then we heard about a second plane. And then when the Pentagon got hit, I got very scared. My principal at the time asked me to go on the intercom of school and tell the students, as best we knew, what was happening and to say a prayer. At that time, I still did not fully comprehend the scale of the attacks, so I wasn’t sure what I was praying for. I knew the at- tacks were the work of terrorists. Was I praying for their defeat and death? How do you pray at a time like that? Years later, students would tell me that they appreciated us being honest and upfront with them, telling them the truth. But to be totally honest, the truth is still some- thing painful and horrible to grasp.
There is a picture (and a documentary) called The Falling Man. It shows a solitary soul plummeting to earth against the background of the North Tower. His position is such that it appears as though he is going headfirst towards oblivion.
There was an unspoken ban on these pictures after that day. Thinking about them or showing them was thought to be dishonoring the dead. But now, twenty years past these events, we are rethinking our erasing of these human beings from history.
Approximately 200 people (seemed to have) leapt to their deaths on that day. Gruesomely, one fell on a firefighter and killed him. It is estimated that the jump would have taken 10 seconds.
Why do all these facts seem so repugnant to us? Could it be that these people gave up, in effect, committed suicide, rather than face the horror? Difficult and troubling questions, to be sure. A journalist attempted to discover the true identity of the man in the picture, the Falling Man. He reasoned that it was one of the workers from the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the North Tower. When he asked his daughter if it might be him, she replied with an angry, vulgar retort. Her father would never have given up. Her father would never have purposefully left them. Strangely, the trail seems to have led to another man from the restaurant who suffered from asthma. His relatives seemed to believe that he wanted to breathe, so it may have been him.
The horrific choice that those poor souls had to make on that fateful day is almost too ghastly to think about. Maybe that is why we didn’t want to look at the pictures. On the other hand, these were fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, friends and neighbors. They deserve to be remembered. And as far as the hideous choice they were forced to make, I choose to believe that they leapt into the bosom of a loving, compassionate God.
A bit rose-colored glasses concept for some, but I after twenty years, I am still waiting for a better explanation.
Eternal rest grant unto them, O God, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace.