Tuesday night, I watched a half hour of “Inside 9/11”. Aside from the much-needed reminders provided by the footage itself, the program brought back my own memories of 9/11/2001.
Age 16, I was at home that morning getting ready for a Geometry class at the local community college. I saw my dad from across the living room, standing with his hand over his mouth and looking at the small office television. He had us turn on the main tv, but after a few minutes of watching smoke billow from the Towers, I had to tear myself away and go to class. Based on the time difference, I believe what we saw was not live, but either way I did not know until returning after class that the towers had also fallen, or that two other planes had been hijacked and crashed. We kept FoxNews on almost continually over the next few days, feeling the hope for survivors in the rubble fade with every hour that passed.
Back to the program two nights ago…I’d like to share with you two sections of it that were deeply moving. Reminders that the image of God in mankind is still powerfully in place.
I expected interviews with survivors, of course. What I did not expect was interviews with people who were on the same floor of the WTC as the jet that crashed into it. I didn’t know that anyone from the immediate vicinity could have survived. A man named Stanley had walked out of his office to send a fax; he felt and heard the impact, and saw the wing of the jet slice through his office down the hall. Later, his skin blackened with smoke and his body half-buried in rubble, he was pounding on a solid surface in front of him and shouting for help. Brian, a guy on the floor above which was collapsing down toward Stanley’s floor, heard him. When he got to where he heard the voice better, he talked Stanley through getting himself out from under the rubble…but in order to actually help him out, Stanley had to reach up to him. There was nothing on which to climb, so the only thing for it was to jump. Below is their account of the words that passed between them:
Brian: “You’ll have to jump!”
Stanley: “I think it’s too high.”
Brian: “You can do it! ”
Stanley: “I don’t think so.”
Brian: “You must do this! Think about your family. You must!”
Brian, in interview: “I had never met this man but he was the only voice I could hear above the roars of the fire, and I felt this immense urgency to get him out.”
Stanley jumped twice, and on the second jump Brian managed to lean down far enough to grab him under one arm, get a grip and pull him up.
Stanley, in interview: “It was far too high for me to jump, and far too low for him to lean. But he kept saying ‘You must! You must!’ So I did. He pulled me up onto him, and there I was on top of this guy who had saved me. I grabbed his head and kissed it.”
Brian, in interview: “He kissed my head and I was like, ‘I’m Brian!’ He said, ‘I’m Stanley.’ I said, ‘Well Stanley, let’s get out of here!'”
Second story (quotes recounted as-spoken so please forgive the language): Louie Lesci, in his 60’s I think, was the most humble and articulate man being interviewed. He described how he was huddled in an office near the impact floor with a dozen others. With extreme humility, almost as though he was ashamed of himself for hiding, he spoke of the voice he heard calling out along the hall for survivors: “Is there anyone alive here?!” He found out later this young man had been going down floor by floor, finding survivors among the dead and directing or carrying them to Stairwell C, the only stairwell not in flames. Louie Lesci and his fellows had just opened a window to relieve their lungs from the acrid black smoke pouring into the room, only to be burned by tiny bits of hot metal blowing in from the outside. At the sound of the voice, Louie shouted back that there were about a dozen people with him. “Come with me!” the voice said. Louie recounts:
“We just followed. We thought we were dead anyway. But here comes this guy, so that’s what you do, you follow. I don’t know, I guess that’s the difference between heroes and guys like me. I don’t know what makes a hero. Maybe it’s one person who is just so scared and so frightened, that he hits a point where he says Alright, this is gonna happen to me but there’s no way I’m gonna to let it happen to anybody else. He took us to the stairwell and we started to make our way down. We’re going down, and right next to us these firemen are going up. One of them passed me and looked right into my eyes as I looked into his. His face was set. He was climbing the stairs fast as he could. And I thought There he goes, he has no idea what kind of hell he’s running up to but he’s not missing a goddamn step. I know exactly where I’m going, and I’m stumbling. I just thought that was . . . magnificent.”