The McGill Report

Six months later, an instant replay of that horrible morning. It’s all over the TV, the radio, newspapers, the Net. Ted Koppel walked through that hellish Staten Island dumping ground where cops are picking through the wreckage looking for ID cards, watches, desktop photographs, wedding bands, fingers, toes, or any bit of flesh to provide a DNA match. The force of destruction was so great that even the smallest items are torn, crushed, burned, or bent beyond recognition.

One worker told Koppel that in six months he hadn’t seen a single whole telephone, desk, or chair in the rubble. Six months later, we are all sifting through our memories of that horrible morning, searching for whole thoughts, feelings, explanations. It’s hard to find any. Our emotions have been crushed as badly as the towers themselves.

However, over the past two days, I’ve picked out a few fragments from this ruin that I’ll cherish. They come from the documentary, 9/11, that was shown on Monday night. A young firefighter had the bad luck of having the World Trade Center tragedy as his first big fire. At the beginning of the film he was all awkward eagerness and naiveté; at the end, he’d been through hell. "Did this experience change you from a boy to a man?" the filmmakers asked. "What’s a man?" he asked back. "I’ll still watch cartoons and do all the silly things I did before. But I do know, now, that I’m just like my brothers in this firehouse, living a life where we try to help others."

The image of firefighters marching into the towers and up the stairs into the blazing inferno struck me as Christ-like. Indeed, to this devout secularist, they appeared to me more Christ-like even than Christ. I feel profoundly obliged, and redeemed by them insofar as they showed what courage and love of humankind truly means – and what is possible. The sound of human beings falling at terminal velocity and exploding on impact, of course, is another thing I won’t forget. It makes it hard for me to believe that human beings are singled out by God or any divine as separate and above all other parts of creation. It seems to me self-evident by this example that we are not; that we rise or fall according to the same laws of chance that govern the forests, the birds of the air, or the fish of the sea. Isn’t this a humbling notion and a corrective to pride and ego that, all things considered, would be well to incorporate into the human self-image?

The opening scene of the film showed the two towers, lit like Christmas trees, spangled against the darkening skies of an earlier, more peaceful day. They looked to me not like buildings but like people. A couple just married, perhaps. They look smiling, proud, magnificent.

I miss them.

Copyright @ 2002 The McGill Report