I clicked through You-Tube after You-Tube, because I hade never seen this before. I don't have a television, and although I, like virtually every American over the age of five, had seen video of the planes crashing into one or both towers at least 50 times in the first month after the event, I had never seen the "jumpers."
My mind's thought as I watched the videos, some of them quite creative and artistic with angels and graphic design overlaid the falling figures, was why is this worse than people in war zones who witness loved ones at wedding parties and religious services being blown apart by bombs or explosives strapped to "suiciders"? Why should we in America be exempt from the terrors of war? Was it that we have not had a war on our soil for so many generations that it is unthinkable that other people would intentionally and randomly kill our people? Is it that the people in the Towers look like us? ARE us? And the less they look like us the easier it is to dismiss their tragic deaths, like those people in Darfur, who are very different, especially if you happen to be white. Or the Iraqis or Afghans, if you happen to be of European descent. Or even the Jews if you happen to be non-Jew, or the gays if you are straight.
Of course there were all these ethnicities represented in the 3000 who perished, but there were enough "just like me" for me to realize in shocking revelation, "It could have been me." Is that what makes it so horrible? Is it that they, even as they fell for ten seconds, tumbling this way and that, one woman appearing to be waving, one man appearing to be using a cell phone, were dressed in business attire? Skirts and heels, suits, though at least one man had removed his shirt before jumping. This is not the proper attire to go sky diving. And the corollary: You don't go to work in the morning expecting to die by jumping out of a window a little bit later.
My mind was still working; why did they jump? At first someone said the heat (or dynamite?) blast from the interior may have created a force that pushed them out. But then observers from helicopters said no, they were lined up two or three people deep in front of the windows, as if waiting their turn. The scenario I see in my mind is that there was an inferno just outside the inner office walls, if the walls still existed. They were moving as far from the unbearable heat as possible, many leaning out of the windows to catch as much air and relief from heat as possible. And then some decided to jump, because it was the only way to get away. We have all burned our fingers on something hot or have gotten too close to a bonfire. The pain even in a centimeter of finger flesh is so intolerable, that we jerk our fingers away, dropping the hot object without even thinking about it. Burn victims suffer so greatly that diminishing their pain through morphine or marijuana or whatever becomes essential to their will to live. As much as I suffer panic from free-falling, even at carnival rides, I would probably have jumped out of reflexive action.
But what about me? Why was I intellectualizing about what I saw and not throwing up? Why were some first responders able to keep calm and were able to direct others out of harm's way, as if it were all just some giant traffic jam? Why was an Asian television station reporter screaming as she ran away in panic while her cameraperson had the frame of mind to keep on filming her?
I think I have the answer and it has bearing on a bigger question: Why can some people accept the idea that our own government was complicit in the 9/11 attack or in election fraud or in trying to "thin the herd" of humanity, and some people just don't want to hear, in fact run screaming at the very suggestion, with hands over their ears, singing, "lalalalala." (I can hear them now, clicking the close button on this article.)
Although my mother died the month after 9/11, and some relative or another said she probably didn't want to live any longer in a world where such a thing could happen, I think this is hogwash. And though I can't remember ever discussing her reaction to it, in my mind I can hear Mom saying, "Well what do you expect when we in this country never try to understand someone else's culture; how do we know WHAT they are thinking?" Or some equally practical explanation for the chaos and turmoil. I think that besides a truly liberal mind, the kind that tries to see all sides of everything, my Mom's greatest gift to me was the ability to separate emotion from intellect, and then bring them back together again when a crisis is over.
She survived a lot, the Great Depression as a teen, a philandering and financially irresponsible husband and later a painful divorce, we children of the sixties who saw no problem with tuning out and turning on, half of her kids turning out gay, going back to work as a school teacher in her forties, caring for her second husband as he wasted away from cancer for two years--she always said that, "Nothing surprises me anymore." How did she cope? By what I am calling "decoupling" of emotions and intellect. She'd just put her emotions aside and listened to her intellect, saying, "Yes, Frances, you heart has been beat up, and you have been abused and maligned, but you know what, you WILL survive. Why? Because your intellect has the upper hand over your emotions. It is greater and it will see you though this period."
I found myself remembering her technique and using it to overcome a broken heart or one of life's other kicks in the teeth more than once. The trick is to be able to bring back the emotions when one is better able to handle them. Otherwise you may become cold and emotionally crippled. Maybe insane. Victims of extreme abuse learn to "phase," that is, leave their bodies and go somewhere else in their minds as abuse is happening. Hopefully they can come back when it is safe to do so. Multiple personality disorder sufferers have learned to take the hurt personality somewhere else and let another personality take over the body, as a coping mechanism. Reintegrating feelings and intellect is difficult in the cases of extreme abuse. And we have all been abused.
Being forced to watch our government send our men and women, mostly our poorest, off to invade another country for a lie, is abuse. Watching them be killed and kill others in our name is abuse, just as if our parents had forced our siblings to kill the neighbor kids. (I just learned that the young man across the street where a close friend has lived for 15 years, is a sniper in Iraq. What will he transition to in civilian life. A hit man?) Watching family and neighbors struggle for economic survival when billions are spent blowing stuff up for no discernable reason is abuse. Watching friends die because they can't afford the best medical care is abuse. Watching our votes not being counted or our registrations disappearing is abuse. Watching torture in our name and illegal surveillance is abuse. We are all in post traumatic distress.
Eyes wide open but not blinded by tears. Compassion that moves to constructive action, not to being frozen in grief. Now I am not saying that if one of those jumpers happened to be one of my family members or friends that I would have been able to sleep. I have also had the very disturbing thought that many of the falling victims' families have probably identified their loved one by clothing or body shape and are probably tormented by the image. I don't know how you get rid of that. And I don't know how any of us who know the "truth" about what seems to be pretty strong evidence of our own government's complicity in the attacks to bring the towers down, can, with any kind of compassion, say to the victims' families, "This was not just the work of people very unlike you in horrible ways, but was the work of people you knew and trusted."
How do you shatter the myth of America without destroying the shred of hope the grief-laden are hanging on to for their survival? They want desperately to believe that there are still good people running our government, that if Obama wins and the Dems get enough politicians into Congress we can investigate, right the wrongs, and get the country back on the track of financial solvency and world respect. Even if this would somehow be true, it assumes that our elections are not controlled and predetermined by a power elite.