Driving home from school, listening to NPR, I heard an interview with a man who had been right near the World Trade Center after the planes crashed into it but before the towers began to crumble (or, I suppose they were beginning to crumble, but they had not fallen). I think he was a construction worker of some sort. He made a few remarks, and interview seemed like filler to me, just blank noise between sound bites, but then he said something that has been seared into my memory. Before he said this, today's events had seemed like a distant, unreal dream; now they are terribly real in their humanity.
Reporter: Can you tell me anything else?
Man: I looked up, and there was dust in my eyes, but I could see people in the windows up above 90 stories, above where the planes crashed. I didn't know what they were doing, if they were trying to signal for help... then they started jumping. They had to choose between being burned alive or jumping to their deaths... I saw one woman; she was practically melted into the concrete.
So often the stories of the individual are lost in the face of tragedy, and this should not be. What were the thoughts running through their minds as they contemplated their options? Jump or burn, no other choice. Every one of those forced to make this choice was a person, perhaps a relation to someone, perhaps a friend to someone, perhaps a lover to someone. Marxist theory should not dominate the recounting of history. On TV, I just saw footage of people climbing out of the windows on floors above the gaping holes cut by the planes. They're standing on window ledges, looking down, and then simply falling. The camera is too far away to see their faces, or even their distinct shapes; they are like shades cleaving from the flaming wreckage. One can almost believe that they are only shadows and that they will simply glide away through the smoky sky rather than plummet to the ashen earth; then the descriptions of bodies "melted into the concrete" asserts itself, and they are not shadows at all, but people.
This is not a tragedy because some nice buildings collapsed and American freedom is threatened. This is a tragedy because people died, horrible, painful, infinitely unimaginable deaths. History must not forget the individual in its headlong rush into the future.