Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Falling Man

I remember September 11th, as a nine-year old waking up in the morning, hearing about a tragedy in the United States. It was a tragedy amongst other things in the world, heartbreaking because it was an act caused by humans. After I first heard about the planes and the people, I would hear much more at school. I remember a fuzzy school TV turned to the news, my teacher writing “Palestinians” and “Terrorists” on the board, as possible causes of this horrible occurrence. She told us how she remembered what she was wearing the day Kennedy was shot, and to this day I recall wearing light flower-embroidered jeans and a white jacket. I recall this so vividly because to my nine-year old self it seemed so close to me, the buildings and the people in a city not completely different from my city. The days that past we saw the pictures of the firefighters and the rubble, we heard the explanation, that as a young child I only somewhat understood. Slowly the event faded to the back of my young mind. There were other tragedies, other social issues, some close and some far, some that were immense and almost intangible, some that seemed closer but still very large.

Every year in September we remember 9/11, it was something that brought death closer to us. But for a long while I have only briefly thought of that day, as the memory of it becomes a discussion for the media. In school this morning, my English teacher showed us a cream-coloured paper with a painting on it that his young son had drawn on September 11th five years ago. It had three different symbols, one big picture, or whatever someone might have seen it as. We saw a simple blue and black plane, broken and jagged with a yellow flame on the wing and a red cockpit. I might be describing this so harshly, because I’m aware of the context, but this was a serious airplane. The next one was just a person, alone in the middle of the page. With a circle head and an oval body with long legs and no arms. Standing between the two cold structures. Beside the person to the right was a big blue building, with a black, yellow and red explosion of heat below it. The top of the building had a streak of red, vertical toward the bottom.

We were told to talk about these pictures until we finally ran out of words. I contributed to the conversation, sometimes I think I raise my hand too much in class and this particularly made me want to talk. I thought the plane looked “harsh and fast” by the colours and the way it was painted. People commented that it looked “broken” and they mentioned the burning wing. We heard that the person was “hollow”, how they might be facing the fire, how they had no arms, I thought the person looked very alone in the middle of this painting. After this we talked about the building. Some mentioned the black shape surrounded by red and black could be an explosion. There was fire, and the building also looked “broken”. I thought the building looked a bit like it was bleeding, and the warm colours of the explosion really contrasted with the blue in the building. This made me think more about 9/11, and for the first time in 5 years I really thought a lot about the tragedy that happened when I was just nine years old.
Tonight on TV I watched a documentary on CBC’s “The Passionate Eye”, a program I’m not unfamiliar with. The feature documentary was called “The Falling Man” and it was about the people who jumped from the building, particularly a man caught in a graceful position, with his head to earth in what appears to be a serene moment during this plunge. This documentary told a story that we haven’t often heard, the one of the jumpers. This picture captured not only the chaos and intensity of the moment but the serenity in someone’s last seconds on earth. The falling man represents to us someone struck by tragedy, just a simple person who felt the pressure to jump for freedom from the smoke and hopelessness of the building. He is just one of the many people who perished in the towers but he is the face of all those who died. Staring at death and making the final decision, and trying to escape from the heat of the building to freedom. Now that I’ve heard about this, I think back to that person in the middle of the painting. It doesn’t have a race or religion; it isn’t a man or a woman. It is someone who is affected by a tragedy, who feels heartbreak; it could be anyone on earth. Horrible things happen, and all of us could be affected. The falling man and the person in the picture share common positions; they are both in the middle of everything. They are both connected to that tragedy, and represent something to us, something that is definitely human.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

This is a very powerfully written post. I don't think many of us will ever forget the minute details of that day.

I had intended to watch The Falling Man. It dealt with an aspect of that day that had not been covered but was such a reality for so many people and their families.

Evelyne said...

Great post Hilary, I think that everyone of us who were old enough to remember 9/11, will remember it, we remember how, when and from whom we've heard about the tragedy on that particular day

hilary m. said...

Thanks Barbara. For some reason I remember that day really clearly unlike some of the other events when I was little.

It was really powerful. The way they revisited how it must've felt for those who jumped, and how it must've felt stuck on the 90th floor of a burning building.

ps. Have you heard of Waynefest? I just remembered you enjoyed Elliot Brood at the folk fest, and that's one of the main acts at this festival. It's in the kinda hoodoo-y area by Drumheller, in a ghost town that I've been to before. Close to where my mum grew up. It's on today and Saturday I think... we tried to get tickets, but I think they're sold out for the most part.

hilary m. said...

Oh, hi Evelyne!

That's really true. It seemed so big to me at the time, it still is something we will always remember.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Waynefest - what a cool name! I haven't heard of it, but I can see Elliott Brood just rocking those hoodoos.

Thanks for letting me know, I'll have to keep my ears open for reviews etc.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Well now I just read about Waynefest in the papers. What a great concept for a festival - keep it small and intimate and have a big bbq for audience and musicians together.

hilary m. said...

Sounded super cool! Wish I'd known about it earlier though. My mum and I are alone this weekend, it would've been cool to go to. Especially cause that's her old turf, hehe.

Becky said...

I remeber 9/11, too. My mom and sister whispering and sending me off to school, Mrs. Kirwin crying infront of the class, trying to figure out what happened with my friends... like you, I was only 9. I wrote a post kind of like this one today... check it out if you like: