Today is Sept. 11, the 16th anniversary the worst terror act to ever take place on American soil. We all know the story: Four coordinated attacks killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, brought about countless acts of heroism from first responders and victims and changed security in this country forever.
There are so many storylines of bravery, courage and tragedy on that terrible day, but the one that stands out and has always haunted me is the image of the falling man, who seemingly chose to die by jumping out of the burning tower instead of being swallowed up by its flame. It’s one of history’s disturbing images — like the Vietcong Execution in Saigon or the suicide cliff of Saipan — that is hard to view because it captures the personal suffering of violence.
I won’t show the picture of the Falling Man in my newsletter because…I just don’t want to. But I did find a recent passage in Esquire that describes what was likely a peaceful and violent descent:
There is something almost rebellious in the man’s posture, as though once faced with the inevitability of death, he decided to get on with it; as though he were a missile, a spear, bent on attaining his own end. He is, fifteen seconds past 9:41 a.m. EST, the moment the picture is taken, in the clutches of pure physics, accelerating at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. He will soon be traveling at upwards of 150 miles per hour, and he is upside down. In the picture, he is frozen; in his life outside the frame, he drops and keeps dropping until he disappears.
The story of the Falling Man wasn’t just a tragedy. It was a mystery — who was this man who “decided to face death with inevitability” and “decided to get on with it?” Esquire has a great story about the photographer who took this picture (he was standing near Robert Kennedy when he was shot and took the famous photo of him dying on the floor of the Ambassador Hotel) and the incredible lengths that several reporters went to determine the identity of the falling man. You can read the Esquire piece here.
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