9/11: The Loneliness of the Falling Man

By William A. Cook

The moon outside that sheds its light over this desert landscape of chaparral and twisted Joshua trees where I live is not yet full, but it rises nonetheless, as the sun, fallen below the ragged hills in the west, leaves its salmon glow on distant clouds far to the north, while my mind tries to unravel meaning in a film, not yet released in the United States, “The Falling Man,” that filters through my thoughts this eve of infamy, the atrocity of 9/11*.The film highlights a photograph taken by Richard Drew of a man hurtling to his death, one shot in a series as he fell from the 102nd story of the World Trade Center.

It is a shot no one wants to see or remember; yet it is unforgettable, catastrophic, a frozen image of human suffering, desperation, forlornness, loneliness in the last seconds of  light and life before everlasting darkness. No image captures the appalling reality of this atrocity as this unknown figure falling to his doom, the victim of unknown forces that knew nothing of him, nothing of his family, nothing of his struggles to stay alive, nothing of those left bereft of a father or son or nephew or grandfather, nothing of the sadness or happiness he brought to work that day, nothing of his desires or hopes or dreams caught now in the wind whipping through his shirt tearing it from his body as he twisted helplessly in the vortex that funneled him to his death.

As the sun’s rays faded and the moon rose higher, the thoughts that stung most were those of a life lost so suddenly no thought could guide the ultimate decision to jump; it came out of desperation, hopelessness, fright, even madness. What after all did he know of the causes of his impending death? What caused it? Why? What had he done to deserve it? When and who designed his death? Did they know him, did they care what souls they consigned to hell fire? What right had they to inflict such suffering on others; what minds dictate such acts of mutilation and feel no remorse? Where in this scenario is justice?

Thus did this twisted figure of impending death metastasize into a metaphor of human loss at the hands of those indifferent to human suffering, necessary detritus of human waste, scattered over the landscape, as they force their will on all who remain. What horror attends their efforts. What silence silences the mind that would cry for justice knowing there will be no justice, aware of the conscious need not to see this image, not to confront what it imports, not to demand investigation, evidence, judgment, and ultimate retribution. Ten years now and no one knows of this falling man nor what he, in his last gasp cries to us to seek–justice, that his last flight might have purpose.

Strange how this man’s dying moments rise from the ashes of the Trade Center this September to remind us of all who went to their deaths unbeknownst to the world, lives lost in our indifference to their suffering, unaware of the forces that imposed their will on their brothers and sisters: the Jews buried in the silence of the crematoriums, the Romas alone as always, innocent bystanders as Nazis marched toward empire, the civilians in Dresden that became pawns to the power of the allied minds that used them as fodder for their gain, the Japanese caught in the firebombing of 64 cities before the United States unleashed its weapons of mass destruction wiping off the face of the earth hundreds of thousands of lives never lived, children never born, minds destroyed before they could blossom; their future like that of the falling man lost forever to the ruinous longings of sick minds that find glory in horror and riches in destruction.

Strange also that this anniversary of September 11comes at a time when the world has a chance to break from the indifference that has shrouded the lives of millions for six decades now, mothers, children, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, the sick and the lame who have witnessed foreigners invade their land, steal their homes, destroy their fields, their green houses, their shops, their mosques—and no one cares, no one wants to see, to know that they are falling, their lives lost waiting for the empathy given to the Jews, the chance to rebuild a life after the destruction as was given to the Germans, to resurrect the people and the economy of Japan as though in recompense for the devastation we caused.

Where is the last vestige of hope for these people, the Palestinians, if the world succumbs once again to the impunity that attends the Israeli government through the dictatorial actions of the United States as it vetoes hope, denies justice, and casts a pall of continued suffering over the ravaged people of Palestine. Certainly we must pay attention to this falling man who epitomizes those caught in the merciless behavior of uncontrolled power–selfish, arrogant, soulless without remorse or compassion or respect or dignity for those they destroy. Ultimately that is what this impending vote in the Security Council is all about: justice by all, for all, that it may prevail.

(“The Falling Man,” Allen L. Roland, 9/3/11. Click here to watch.)

– William A. Cook is a Professor of English at the University of La Verne in southern California. His latest book, The Plight of the Palestinians, was published by Macmillan this past August. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: wcook@laverne.edu and visit: www.drwilliamacook.com.

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