Tom Junod wrote an incredible, thoughtful, moving article for Esquire Magazine about the pictures AP photographer Richard Drew took on the morning of September 11, 2001. The most famous of the photographs, dubbed "The Falling Man", was originally published on September 12, 2001. And over the course of the last fifteen years, that picture has been censored.
Not by the government, but by the American people themselves.
Junod elaborates on the possible reasons as some of his journalist colleagues attempted to identify the man in Drew's photo series. But the common theme in the responses from families the reporters contacted is a mixture of anger and shame. Junod equated the emotions to our collective horror over the terrorism of that day.
I believe the reaction is due to another reason. It all comes down to Americans' bizarre relationship with suicide.
Suicide is often equated with mental illness. Even assisted suicide for those in the end stage of disease are looked at askance. Yet, neither of those situations remotely compare to the place those people trapped in the Twin Towers found themselves that morning.
As DH said to me on that day fifteen years ago, "How bad were things up there that jumping out a window was a better option?"
No one knows exactly how many people jumped that awful morning. Junod gives estimates based on educated guesses from viewing raw footage. 9/11, the accidental documentary by the French brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet, left in the shocked firefighters' reaction when they realized the sounds they heard were bodies. Allegedly, the documentarians edited out some of the hits because the constant thuds were too much for them.
I recorded 9/11 when it was first aired on March 10, 2002. I admit I haven't been able to watch the recording again, much less the airings of the film on the anniversaries, because of those sounds.
The NYC medical examiners office refused to classify anyone who died in the Twin Towers attacks as "a jumper". To the M.E.s, those people did not go to the Towers with the intent to commit suicide that morning.
So I can understand Junod's suggestion over the collective horror over something we witnessed and could do nothing to stop. But it doesn't explain the anger or the denial directed at those who chose to jump. And maybe that's the problem. We don't know what went through their minds that morning.
Collectively, Americans pride themselves on their can-do, never-give-up attitudes. We condemn people for giving up or not trying hard enough. And to some of the families of those who died, the idea that a loved one "gave up" is anathema to the person they knew.
But did these people really give up? Essentially, their choice to live was taken from them by nineteen members of al-Qaeda. They were reduced to suffocating, burning alive, or being crushed to death when the walls and ceilings started to collapse.
Instead, some of these people found a fourth option. An option not dictated by those who wanted to kill them.
To me, it was the bravest option. A final screw-you to the terrorists.
And frankly, it's the option I would have taken too.