Such was the widely-publicized cry of a young woman as she looked up at the Twin Towers and saw what many initially believed to be birds, or pieces of debris. It became immediately apparent, however, that what billions of people around the world were watching was far more atrocious.
For many Americans, myself included, the images of these people (officials say there were 104, but most believe there were far more) falling from the sky to such a horrific death is the most searing memory we have of that day.
The following video, excerpted from one of the best documentaries made following 9/11, “Faith & Doubt at Ground Zero”, summarizes my initial reaction to what I was witnessing:
Indeed, I remember visibly shaking with dread as they fell, wondering aloud how unbearable must have been the heat to compel these innocent people to do this – how utterly tragic to look down upon NYC, upon the legions of firefighters, upon the largest media apparatus in the world – and to know that your only escape from the horror of burning to death is to accept that the world is going to watch you fall over 1,000 feet to the ground…and disintegrate.
I remember an immediate and sudden sense of profound guilt and abject sorrow. “These people have done nothing to deserve this, and here I am, sitting in my boxer shorts, hungover from the concert I went to last night. It should have been me, it should have been me…” I simply could not contain the grief I was feeling for these people – at that moment, every wrong thing I had done in my life, every right thing I had failed to do – came rushing back to me in a torrent of sorrow and pain. I truly wished I could have taken one of their places. In so many ways, I still do.
Some time ago, I came across a video containing the final words of Kevin Cosgrove, who was in the North Tower and on the line with 911 shortly before it collapsed. In the days, months and years since September 11, rarely has a week gone by where I haven’t wondered what I might be thinking were I in one of those towers. I’ve tried writing essays about it, and even attempted a script or two, but my mind resists the attempt to delve into a fear that deep. Kevin has done that for me, sparing me the pain and despair of disregarding the life I have been given in favor of simply waiting for death. Through the honesty of his words and emotions, I’m able to come to a sort of peace with the images that have haunted me since that day.
The following is very difficult to listen to, should you so decide.
Kevin Cosgrove has become for me the link between the sanity of a spiritual life, and the insanity of passionate, religious absolutism.
September 11, 2001 almost killed me, yet in the decade since, and despite the deep and lasting scars, I have found an appreciation for life I hadn’t known existed. I will always mourn for those who were forced to make a choice I couldn’t conceive of having to make in my worst nightmares, but I love them for having done so.