CN: 9/11 remembrances and suicide.
On September 11, 2001, I was at home at my grandparents’ house in Jamaica. I was dressed in scrubs an aunt had handed down, and had no plans to do much for the day but rest: I was out of school for medical recovery while classmates and others began their semester on campus. As I walked through the dinning room table that morning, I watched my 85-year old grandmother stand two feet away from her television. Smoke clouds wrapped around the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
“Oh, Lord, help us!” she said. I didn’t see the second plane. I just heard her as she did.
I don’t know anyone who was around in 2001 who doesn’t have a story like that. And I don’t think anyone needs to tell us to “Never forget” because we can’t forget. Looping video all over domestic and international news broadcasts ensures we can’t forget, even when we wish to, even when we try to opt out.
And even if we missed it the first time round, broadcasters are perfectly happy to show it to us now.
I couldn’t get a phone call through to friends in New York for over a week after 9/11. For people on the ground, who lived there and lost relatives, friends, and coworkers, the experience was exponentially worse. Ordinary life has permanently shifted in some way for all of us.
We demand immediate memorials as outward symbols because the hold of memory on our inner lives is so tenuous. And then, because we have tangible, observable memorials, we feel absolved of the obligation to remember on our own; we feel free, in good conscience, to immerse ourselves in the blur of the present. Thus does the memory boom try to compensate for an actual memory bust.” —Miroslav Volf
Volf explains that we easily mis-remember, filling in details that are inaccurate, or obscuring details that could change or challenge easier interpretations of events. And he insists throughout the book that the way we remember constitutes us: our memories shape our individual and collective identities.
I may not be culpable if I misremembered unintentionally; but I am responsible to remember correctly. The obligation to remember truthfully is just one dimension of the general obligation to tell the truth.” —Miroslav Volf
This is the question that Tom Junod considers in a remarkable and troubling Esquire essay on photos of “the falling man,” one of perhaps 200 people who jumped from the towers on Tuesday, September 11, 2001. AP photographer Richard Drew was in New York for another assignment, went toward the disaster rather than away from it, and took a series of photos of the World Trade Center buildings from his post next to first responders.
That photo series, and the people it represents, are rarely seen now in remembrances of 9/11. Junod asks why that is.
What distinguishes the pictures of the jumpers from the pictures that have come before is that we—we Americans—are being asked to discriminate on their behalf. What distinguishes them, historically, is that we, as patriotic Americans, have agreed not to look at them. Dozens, scores, maybe hundreds of people died by leaping from a burning building, and we have somehow taken it upon ourselves to deem their deaths unworthy of witness—because we have somehow deemed the act of witness, in this one regard, unworthy of us.” —Tom Junod
Read the rest. The article includes photos from Drew’s series as well as direct discussion of suicide, and may be distressing.