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Showing posts with label World Trade Center. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World Trade Center. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Stranger I Mourn Part II

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.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Nine Eleven

I would like you all to read my post remembering 9-11 on my essay's blog. There will be a special post tomorrow too. And if you write a special post honoring this sober occasion, please leave me a note in the comments so that I may read it. Thank you.

The Stranger I Mourn

I don't know the man. Never met him. But his death impacted me deeply, and I will never forget him. I first saw him on September 12, 2001, the day after he died. Every year at this time, when I am reminded of him, I cry. Tears fill my eyes now as I remember. His picture was in the paper. He was split seconds away from heaven. He chose not to burn.

It was a peculiar picture. If held inverted, it looked as though he was walking to work. One knee bent, as though strolling down the sidewalk. He was wearing a nice suit. So out of place in the photograph... like someone had taken his image and pasted it upside down, in the air, beside the burning tower. He chose not to burn; but his image is burned into my memory and shall remain there forever. May he rest in peace.

I Remember

I was sitting at the computer, entering dimensions from a blue print. The clerk hollered across the room that my daughter was on the phone. I picked up the receiver to hear an excited voice...

"A passenger jet just crashed into the World Trade Center!" What a strange and horrible accident. I shared the news with my co-workers. We all thought it was terrible. We talked a minute about how devastating it is outside of a city, but to crash in New York? There would certainly be a large death toll.

We went back to work, a bit more somber.

A few minutes later, "It's Jenny again." I picked up. "What? Another one? That's so bizarre!" What was happening? "They think what? You're kidding? Oh, my God!"

My co-workers huddled around the radio for news. We didn't have an internet connection in that room. Besides the clerk, I was the only woman. Most of the men were veterans. I can't say for sure, but I think it was harder for them.

Jenny called yet again. Washington, D.C.? Other planes missing? Airports were shut down.

We felt trapped. The world as we knew it was coming to an end, and we were there, stuck in this office space inside a factory, sealed off from the real world. I walked to the restroom by the break area. The monitors were tuned to an outside news station. Very strange. Workers were standing in front of them, their necks stretched back, staring silently at the screens. No one at the vending machines. No one talking. The noise from the machinery drowned out whatever was being said on the TV. All we had were the pictures. Chaos. Surreal. Not here. Overseas maybe, but not here!

I went to my husband's department and told them what had happened. My step-son was in the military. Returning to my area, I learned another plane had gone down.

Finally, in the afternoon, we were free. We went home and turned on the news. Every channel - those same images. The towers crashing down. New York city looking like a war zone.

I couldn't not look. I had to watch. I clung to every word, every theory. They were saying that the last plane may have been brought down by the passengers, to prevent the plane from reaching its planned target. My husband couldn't bear to hear it anymore. What did this mean for his son?

We had just bought seventeen acres in the county, a little over a half-hour away. He wanted to go there and cut wood. He needed the serene setting to make everything all right again. It would never be all right again.

I'll never forget the beautiful and strange sky that day. There were no jet trails. Nothing but blue sky and clouds. It was like being on another planet. We were glad to be at the farm. I took the camera, but discovered the batteries were dead. I decided to run into Xenia to KMart.

I was at the electronics counter paying for my batteries. Some guy was talking to the guy at the register. Word was that they were running out of gas everywhere and stations were raising their prices to $2/gallon! It had been $1.40 that morning. I thought about our near empty tank. I hope it's not true.

I left the store and drove through the parking lot to the street. I could see the long lines of cars waiting at the corner for their turn to get into the station. The world had gone crazy!

We spent a few hours in the fields, trying not to think about what was going on here and there. We then headed home, down the back roads. The gas gauge was low. We turned into Waynesville to find a station. Just like it had been earlier that day in Xenia, cars were lined up in both directions, waiting. We got in line and when it was our turn, paid the $2/gallon just before the pump ran dry, and then headed home.

We came into Springboro to find police cars at the main intersection of town, where two gas stations sat across from one another. There were orange cones and yellow police tape blocking and guiding the traffic through the lots. All the tranquility of the farm was wasted. The little release we had felt, melted quickly away. At home, I watched the news in one room, my husband did not watch in another room.

Although many heroes were born that day, sleep did not come easy. And we will never forget.