“Is it true,” Noise said the other day, “that people jumped right out of the building?”
I asked for clarification.
“On 9/11. Did people just jump out of the building onto the ground? Did they think they would live? Did they think someone would catch them? What was so scary inside the building that would make jumping seem less scary?”
I was not prepared. I have perpetually felt unprepared for these conversations for 12 years, so I just rolled with it.
I asked where he heard it from. A teacher.
I told him that there were fires, people panicked, folks could not breathe, they couldn’t get out, they didn’t know what to do… so some did jump. I said that we can’t really know why any particular person made the choice to jump, or even if all of them chose to do so– they might have fallen, etc.
I did not tell him that one specific image of a man in freefall is the main indelible visual memory I have of this day twelve years ago. That the stories of people hitting the glass roof of the atrium from above featured nightly in my dreams for years. That I asked my self the same questions for years. Did they think they could land safely? Did they think someone would catch them?
What was so scary where they were that jumping seemed like a better option?
The idea that my fellow humans had to choose between falling to their deaths or burning alive is too atrocious to think about.
Of course I don’t want to get mired in all that, and I definitely don’t want Noise to get mired in it. So we talk about all the stories that come out of that day about heroes. About all the good things regular people did (and continue to do) not because they had to, but because they made a split decision to be good and helpful people. Sometimes, at their own peril. Sometimes, to the end of their lives.
This morning he asked me if I would have run into the building.
I told him that you really don’t know what you would do in that kind of situation until it happens, and that the folks who ran in that day (firefighters, police, and even random citizens) might have believed before 9/11 that they would never
be able to do such a thing– but they did. Some folks who probably thought they would be the kind of person who would run in, might have run out instead. I told him that I don’t think I would run in, but I would definitely help anyone I could on my way out. I wouldn’t be useful, I said, without the strength to carry someone or the necessary life-saving skills– I’d be more in the way if I ran in to help.
“Sometimes,” I said, “the way to be of most use it to get the heck out of the way, and help others do the same. But if I could help, I sure would.”
And maybe that’s what my kids get out of the lessons of 9/11, right now.
To do the right thing, even though it’s likely that no one will know about it. To be of use and help to our fellow man. Beyond the politics and world peril that came out of that day, and continue to breed… maybe the point is more about those people on that day.
Help who you can, where you can, when you can.
And get the hell out of the way if you can’t.
We are in this together.