The Falling ManSeptember 11, 2012
By Brian Steele
For me the most defining image of 9/11/01 is not a fiery ball of jet fuel or crashing tower or monster rolling wave of debris. But a near-peaceful image.
The picture is known as The Falling Man.
Captured by AP photographer Richard Drew, the image generated intense inquiry and investigation for the identity of the victim. Henry Singer made a documentary about the search for his identity. Tom Junod wrote an extensive article about the iconic picture.
Every September 11th, the picture emerges from the back closet of my busy life and haunts me. Taps me on the shoulder then punches me in the gut. I feel short of breath when I see this picture. I want to turn away but can’t. And feel that I shouldn’t.
There is such stark contrast in the image.
Rotate the image to the right 90 degrees and he is restfully reclining, as on a bed. Rotate it another 90 degrees and he is marching. Another 90 degrees, he is swimming. Another 90 degrees, he is plummeting again. And this is the cycle of our lives.
The Falling Man is alone, helpless, at the mercy of gravity, leaving behind one torment and rushing to another. He jumped to escape death by fire, choosing death by fall. And now forever hangs upside down, vertically suspended in time.
I’m haunted by the image because the picture is much larger than one man falling on one day. The Falling Man captures everybody falling, every day. Each of us are falling head long, inevitably, undeniably. I am a falling man. You are falling. We are fallen. We are in the foreground of the same alternating background of good and evil, right and wrong, life and death, peace and horror. The contrasts of The Falling Man are the contrasts of our lives. We each face loneliness, despair, hopelessness. Sometimes we must make a choice between our means of suffering. Sometimes we have no choice.
Some say that this image shouldn’t be shown. But this stark reminder that we are falling and fallen can lead to life.
Jesus offered himself as our only hope. Jesus also hung, vertically suspended, yet in our place as the falling and fallen.
There is no Hallmark Card kitsch or Precious Moments cuteness that can soften the horror of 9/11/01.
But there is Jesus. The hope of the falling and the fallen.