Death to the Falling Man

What I’d like to say is that we’re all close to being comfortable again.

What shook me the most about 9/11 was that I mourned less over the loss of two temples to business than the trust I had in the sanity of everyone around me.   I was a junior in college.  Instantaneously the plazas and throughways were chalked up with “Death to Towelheads” and “Horsemen pass by!”  Our tallest buildings–seven story dorms–were worried over as possible targets.  I knew a few people of Indian descent.  They started getting harrassed on 9/12.  It was a nightmare for me, personally, realizing that the institute in which I’d placed my trust could be violently flipped like a naive bride.

There was a young man I’ll never forget.  Started carrying around a 4×6 foot US flag on an 8 foot wooden stick right after we invaded Afghanistan.  Wherever he went.  In the classroom he laid it into a back corner.  Outside between buildings it dug into his shoulder, flung mindlessly into the wind.  No one really asked him how long he’d carry it, but he’d offer this information without prompt.  “As long as it takes.  Until our boys come home.”

That’s what’s funny, really.  All the ways we thought we’d show our support, not knowing how long we’d have to keep our arms in the air, not knowing how tired we’d get.  Not ready for the Long Haul.

Maybe without Bush and Cheney we’d never have to face our own shortcomings.  Who knows?  Maybe President Gore would’ve let us been quietly angsty but satisfied in the knowledge that “We coulda wiped them off the face of the earth, we just chose not to.”  Who knows.  Maybe it would’ve been exactly the same except with more poetry and a wider pool of contractors.  It doesn’t really matter, because at the end of the day September 11th was not a political issue, not a war issue, not a federal case.

For Them, for the late bin Laden and his up-down-look-all-around Al-Qaida crew September 11th was about our culture, and we’ve failed to respond in kind.  At least officially.  Down to a person, we’ve all made decisions about how to react.  Fasten it into a museum exhibit, lock it into plexiglass, mount it on the mantle, withhold it from the children, burn it as hate fuel, dash it as ironic bitters into a final toast to American freedom.  Use it as you will.  We all do.  There is no consensus.  There is no Right Answer.

A decade on, there’s even less sense.  All the major parties involved seem to have retired or withdrawn.  We’re left to clean the mess they made.  Which is why I find it so hard to find sympathy for the falling man.

Diving headfirst out of a building, diving headfirst into a corner of Manhattan, escaping a burning death, a collapsed-upon death, a death tarnished by the inhalation of your co-workers’ dust.  You showed up on time to work, maybe even early, and this was the thanks you got.  But choosing to leap, knowing, full well, there’d be nothing to save you, jumping out into the open to escape an entire decade, to evade the future, to avoid the aftermath…You gave up.  Turning and spinning, subject to the cross-currents defined by granite and glass, a tiny body moved by invisible laws…possibly wondering Why and Who, but not really caring to find out more than you wanted not to char, not to be lost for days, not to be inconvenienced by a slow, inquisitive death.

When, finally, history singled you out, you chose the drama over the documentary, chose to cease thinking and ultimately overload your brain with sensation rather than fact.  You leapt, tumbled, and never regained upside right.

Of course, you know what I’m going to say.  It wasn’t just the Falling Man, wasn’t just those random jumpers, the ink-spot stickmen against a blue background.  They had millions put their heads out the window in the years that followed, millions of us who signed off on their ability to find a solution or even a reason to move forward.  Let’s put it back the way it was as quickly as possible, back to September 10th.  We know our tools are slow.  Litigation, war, and sanctions.  Assassination, seige, and structured payments.  Pastiche, retrospective, and exhibition.  A decade of running without heads on.  But one day the impossible will be possible again.  One day it will shiver and be done with, and we’ll be back to bartering and bickering as usual, no qualms, no doubts, and all possible enemies contained in a color-coded three-ring binder.

It won’t hurt when we hit the ground because of the pressure.  Because we started so high.  Because we are inverted and can’t see the end rushing towards us.

Again we are staring at the sky and waiting.

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