Reading the news this morning, I stumbled across a review of Henry Singer’s documentary 9/11: The Falling Man, which centres on Richard Drew’s iconic, but apparently quickly suppressed, photograph of a person falling from the Twin Towers.
Drawn into reading a bit of background on the Falling Man photograph, I was reminded that, in the minds of some, there is apparently some question about the morality of the jumpers – grounded in a fear that there would be some kind of religious retribution in the afterlife for choosing the manner of one’s death, and also drawing on the popular judgmental discourse that people who commit suicide are “cowards” and “selfish”…
Tom Junod’s article on the subject reports on the reluctance of authorities to admit that some persons jumped to their deaths, with the New York Medical Examiner’s Office, for example, insisting that all who fell were involuntarily pushed out of the Towers by a blast or other force. He cites the distress of the daughter of a victim who had been taunted by people who insisted that her father was now in hell because he was believed to have jumped. And he mentions the strong condemnations of jumpers even by some of those who lost family in the attack, mentioning one person, approached about the identity of the person in the Falling Man photograph, who responded, “That piece of shit is not my father.”
I find the condemnation of those who might have chosen to jump confusing and disturbing – a position I realise is easier for me to adopt, given that I am not subject to a religious prohibition on suicide. Nevertheless, the thought that someone whose life ended in this way – in a circumstance so far from their control, who exercised a choice over how to die – should then need to have their death shrouded in secrecy lest they be condemned as a “coward”, or be branded as someone who will now suffer from “damnation”… Is it really so difficult to empathise with this kind of choice? So easy to be certain we would never make the same decision? Is it really plausible to think that less empathy and compassion would issue from a being worshipped as divine?
Apparently, for some people, it is plausible… The conclusion to Junod’s article highlights the empathic possibilities apparently not considered:
…maybe he didn’t jump from the window as a betrayal of love or because he lost hope. Maybe he jumped to fulfill the terms of a miracle. Maybe he jumped to come home to his family. Maybe he didn’t jump at all, because no one can jump into the arms of God.
Oh, no. You have to fall.