Today, I’ve deliberately stayed away from the televising of the memorial service, but in the last two weeks, I’ve watched three programs about the event.
One was actually a series of several episodes on the Discovery Channel called “Rising”, about the building of the 9/11 Memorial. It’s an unbelievable feat of construction, architecture, design, art, human imagination and the human indomitable spirit. It focuses primarily on the construction challenges, and I found these fascinating. Plus focusing on the mechanical aspects allows you to temporarily put aside the emotional aspects of 9/11–but not entirely.
In one episode, one of the construction supervisors is permitted to visit the plant where the names of the victims are being engraved on bronze plates. These plates are on the edges of the two reflecting pools. These two pools are squares which sit on the footprints of each tower, and waterfalls cascade down each side of the cube. This supervisor was playing a critical role in getting the pools completed in time for today’s memorial service–and they were successful. He is allowed to start the engraving machine, then watch while it engraves the name of…his little brother, who died on 9/11 and whose remains have never been found. When the engraving is done, they wash the metal with water to cool it down. He touches his brother’s name through the water and says, “This is my brother now”.
The second program I watched was on The Learning Channel, and was called “Heroes of the 88th Floor”. It focuses primarily on the survivors, who are somewhat of a forgotten group. The trauma they experienced was extreme. In one scene, they interview a subway train driver (who to my surprise, are still called “motormen”). His train was under the South Tower at the moment the plane hit, which he could feel–it shook the train. At the next possible moment, he stopped the train and ordered everyone off. Then he left himself, abandoning his train. This is probably unprecedented. He had no idea what was happening, but somehow he had a sense of doom. Since that day, he has been unable to work, due to PTSD. There are many varied stories on this note. Firefighters who were blinded and insisted on returning to work as soon as they were medically cleared, and many others like the motorman. I think it’s wrong to judge who is “braver”.
Finally I watched an overview special on NBC News Friday night, narrated by Tom Brokaw.
One of the things these programs have in common is the inescapable video of the plane hitting the South Tower. (To my knowledge, there is no video of the plane hitting the North Tower. So at first, they didn’t even know what happened. It may have been an internal explosion.) Fortunately, although it was mentioned, there was no footage shown of people jumping from the towers. Those photos, more than those of the planes hitting the South Tower, are etched in my memory as the the real horror of 9/11. I can’t bear them.
I asked my good friend who is a doctor whether he would have stayed or jumped. He said he would have jumped. I would have stayed. That’s a very bizarre conversation to be having.
That day, they shut down and evacuated the two tallest buildings in Tallahassee–the Capital and the Education building. I thought, how silly. What terrorist would want to target Tallahassee? Then it dawned on me: The governor (Jeb Bush at the time) is the President’s brother. At the time, who knew what the motivation was, or who might be targeted? You didn’t have to be in New York or Washington D.C. to be plunged into fear.
All that said, the main reason I’ve avoided it today is that the emotional impact is high, but that isn’t the main reason. It’s that the constant repetition tends to dull that impact. You start to get numb. It’s inevitable. It’s like hearing that another suicide bomber or IED killed X number of people in…fill in the country. And I don’t want to become numb.