Free Fall

Jumper from World Trade Center on 9/11

Man Falling from World Trade Center on 9/11

Today is the twelfth anniversary of the World Trade Center bombing on 9/11. It occurred exactly one week after I returned from Iceland in 2001. I was on American Airlines Flight 11, the one that crashed into the North Tower of the WTC, seven days before the debacle. For some reason, I turned on the news and saw the whole thing happen—something that I almost never did, and certainly never do any more.

The above image of the man falling from one of the towers has been one of my strongest memories of the event. Two years later, in 2003, Tom Junod wrote an article for Esquire about the picture, in which he wrote:

In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow. Although he has not chosen his fate, he appears to have, in his last instants of life, embraced it. If he were not falling, he might very well be flying. He appears relaxed, hurtling through the air. He appears comfortable in the grip of unimaginable motion. He does not appear intimidated by gravity’s divine suction or by what awaits him. His arms are by his side, only slightly outriggered. His left leg is bent at the knee, almost casually. His white shirt, or jacket, or frock, is billowing free of his black pants. His black high-tops are still on his feet. In all the other pictures, the people who did what he did—who jumped—appear to be struggling against horrific discrepancies of scale. They are made puny by the backdrop of the towers, which loom like colossi, and then by the event itself. Some of them are shirtless; their shoes fly off as they flail and fall; they look confused, as though trying to swim down the side of a mountain. The man in the picture, by contrast, is perfectly vertical, and so is in accord with the lines of the buildings behind him. He splits them, bisects them: Everything to the left of him in the picture is the North Tower; everything to the right, the South. Though oblivious to the geometric balance he has achieved, he is the essential element in the creation of a new flag, a banner composed entirely of steel bars shining in the sun.

In the article, Junod attempts to establish the identity of the jumper. The article is well worth reading.

I see 9/11 as a giant punctuation mark for the new millennium. There was before, and now there is after. We seem to be more involved in the Middle East and its hatreds, its fundamentalisms, its generations-long vengeance than we ever wanted to be.