Sometimes life's ironies and coincidences stun me...
I wrote about this stranger, and how his death impacted me. I think about him on September 12th of every year. Odd that he doesn't always come to mind on the 11th. The 12th was the day all the pictures hit the doorsteps. That image was the most dramatic to me. The planes striking the towers, the towers burning, the collapse, the injured... Those pictures were all horrendous, but this one particular image - it was personal. It was a man seconds away from certain death. Watching someone die.
A facebook friend posted a link last night. Incredibly, it was an hour-long documentary about the falling man, and the quest to identify him - to tell his story. I looked at the clock. It was late. I started to close my browser.
I didn't analyze the photo in the paper that day. One glance was enough then; but now my emotions have been tempered by eight years. Did I want to know more? Did I want to revisit that image that had such a profound effect on me? Most importantly, would I regret it?
I clicked. "I'll just watch a minute or two."
It wasn't mere curiosity. This man was a part of my life experience that defines who I am - what I believe. Even though his role in my life was brief and distant, it was significant. I wanted to know more about him.
The film documented not only the events unfolding that day, but the thoughts in the mind of the photographer of that picture and the others involved in this quest. Society had determined to file away the pictures. The coroner's office had said there were no jumpers - only people that were blown out or fell. This group was determined to let the jumper's stories be told - to remove the shame we attach to such an unspeakable act.
Call me naive, but I disagree with this group on that note. I never thought of it as shameful and I don't think any of the people I know did either. It wasn't suicide. It was a choice of how to die, if, in fact, they did choose. After re-watching the footage of the people filling the windows, I believe a lot of these people simply fell. There were so many crammed together, trying to reach the fresh air.
A man that had lost his wife that day was featured in the film. He felt certain that she had jumped. The man had talked to her on the phone during the fire. He had identified his wife as a person in a photograph that had fallen from the tower. The person was dressed in the same colors of clothing and had the same hair and build. He said he gained closure from the picture. He said it had troubled him... the not knowing. He was at peace now that he had an answer.
It turns out that what I thought was a dress shirt and suit pants, was actually a restaurant jacket and dark jeans. In the beginning, they believed the man to be a pastry chef working in Windows on the World, a restaurant in the World Trade Center. An article appeared in a newspaper, identifying him. This man had a wife and three daughters, the youngest was thirteen. I will not print his name here. The family did not want it to be him. Their religion told them that, had he made this choice, his soul was doomed to hell. Through the quest of this group, it was proven that the man in the photo was not this chef. The family was relieved. They felt as though his name had been cleared of any wrong-doing in the eyes of God.
A group of workers from the restaurant agreed to look at the enhanced photos. They ruled out all but a handful. Finally, the owner of the restaurant agreed to view them. At first, he had been adamantly opposed. He had stopped somewhere before work that day. These people were his family. His grief was deep. The interviewers ran through the remaining names while he examined the photos. When they said Jonathan's name, he was silent. He believed the man to be Jonathan, but could not say for certain.
Jonathan was a sound engineer for Windows on the World. His expertise was used for conferences and other functions. His sister described him as a happy man - the kind that makes others happy. He enjoyed life.
John Doe or Jonathan Eric Briley? It was a desperate moment. We will never know for sure if the man in the photo was Jonathan. We will never know for sure who made the choice and who didn't. Does it matter? Would it matter to you?
I suppose if it was my husband, I would want to know how he died... But would I need to know the details, or would the fact that he died there, on that day, from that act be enough?
John or Jonathan - may you rest in peace.