Saturday, September 10, 2011

Witnessing Hell

I just watched a reconstruction and a documentary of 9/11. I didn't expect to spend 3 hours on this, but that's what I did.

I started with 9/11 De-Edited, Reconstructed & Synchronized, an hour and forty-five minutes of various coverage. The documentarists gathered all the news and video sources they could find, from dozens of sources, and synchronized them each passing second, presenting the entity without comment or opinion. Powerful stuff.

For some reason I felt I had to watch this whole thing. Not to try to make sense of it -- that's beyond me. Not to see falling people and wonder what it must be like to jump from a burning building to sure death. As one firefighter asked, "How bad is it up there that the better option is to jump?" Later someone says "it was raining bodies."

I watched because of my own need to have compassion, to witness tragedy so that maybe those who suffered, those who died can, however distantly, have had one more human being in their company.

On one of the top, burning and smoking floors I saw someone waving something white from a window. I can imagine them thinking that maybe somehow someone could still save them. I can imagine them thinking: "please don't let me die alone here, with no one caring."

We all die alone, whether on a bed or a morning jog or when we hit the ground from 70 stories up. Not much anyone can do about that. But just like ten years ago when it happened, I feel like I have to do something.

So I watch. I witness. I care. That much I can do.

Then I watched 9/11 Documentary (The Naudet Brothers), which gives amazing in-building and on-street views of the firefighters inside the building and on the street. This is a documentary, with high-quality filming, so you can see a lot of detail. I felt like I was there. The expressions on the firefighters' faces, the eyes of people on the street. The aftermath.

In retrospect, the firefighter crew's initial confidence is astonishing. But then again, is it? We do what we've always done, day in and day out, because it's what we know. I've seen disasters unfold and they always start just like the non-disaster version of things. You have to deviate from what you expect, and that's hard to do until you're sure. You have to recognize the world has shifted. You have to do something you've never done before, which is hard.

Ten years later, 9/11 is still shocking, outrageous. All the unanswered questions about what really happened and who was really responsible don't change that people's lives turned to dust and ash that day.

What happened? "Hell is what happened," said someone. It's worth remembering that hell happens to someone on this earth every day. And even if we can do nothing else, we can have compassion, we can be witnesses, we can care.

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