memory as witness

fallingman-lg

The reason Elie Wiesel writes is to give witness to the horrors he endured, to employ his memory as a tool to bring to light the suffering of tens of thousands of Jews who perished in the violence of the Holocaust. Today we face another sort of memory, another sort of reason to remember the attacks on the World Trade Centers on September 11, 2001.

We all have our own versions of the day. I was in the seventh grade, and we first heard the news in Mrs. Gary’s English class. Teachers and principals spoke in hushed tones and there was a buzz of fear in the air. My mother picked me up from school and we drove home and watched the news, as one by one the planes demolished buildings and futures and lives and our sense of false security. I remember the way the day looked outside, all golden light of early fall with only a touch of chill in the air, the pastures cropped short and still speckled with bound hay bales. I remember watching people jump from the buildings — to escape, to take one last leap of faith that somehow they might be saved. At eleven years old I could hardly watch.

This incredible piece from Tom Junod for Esquire is a lasting testament to “the jumpers” and those they left behind. Instead of condemnation, Junod suggests that we see ourselves in them, we see the parts of our own characters looking for escape, and that by bearing witness we are doing our very best to uphold their memories. Read the entire piece here. It’s lengthy but worth every word.

Photographs lie. Even great photographs. Especially great photographs. The Falling Man in Richard Drew’s picture fell in the manner suggested by the photograph for only a fraction of a second, and then kept falling. The photograph functioned as a study of doomed verticality, a fantasia of straight lines, with a human being slivered at the center, like a spike. In truth, however, the Falling Man fell with neither the precision of an arrow nor the grace of an Olympic diver. He fell like everyone else, like all the other jumpers — trying to hold on to the life he was leaving, which is to say that he fell desperately, inelegantly. In Drew’s famous photograph, his humanity is in accord with the lines of the buildings. In the rest of the sequence — the eleven outtakes — his humanity stands apart. He is not augmented by aesthetics; he is merely human, and his humanity, startled and in some cases horizontal, obliterates everything else in the frame…

“But now the Falling Man is falling through more than the blank blue sky. He is falling through the vast spaces of memory and picking up speed.”

AP Photo “The Falling Man” by Richard Drew, via Esquire

My poem, posted here two years ago and written in the weeks after 9/11. 

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2 thoughts on “memory as witness

  1. “He fell like everyone else, like all the other jumpers — trying to hold on to the life he was leaving, which is to say that he fell desperately, inelegantly. “….I’ll remember that

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