The sights and sounds on that crisp, cloudless morning of Sept. 11, 2001, seem like yesterday. Reliving the precise timeline every anniversary — second by second, video clip by video clip — is the proper way to remember that day, honor the dead and fortify our resolve to confront such evil.
But what about the day after Sept. 11? The day after all the names have been read? When the squawks and sirens and exclamations of disbelief from witnesses staring skyward — unseen off camera — have been rewound to play again next year?
That is the day for a more profound remembering — a dutiful examination of the searing reality of all that happened on Sept. 11, 2001.
Organizations such as Tunnel to Towers Foundation do a phenomenal job keeping the harder memories alive. Visiting the memorials at Ground Zero, the Pentagon and Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, are deep and powerful reminders.
The National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City underneath the foundations of the old Twin Towers is thorough and devastating. It is a comprehensive encapsulation of 9/11, particularly for younger people who did not live through that day or were too young to remember it.
Deep in the caverns of that memorial are a couple of rooms that remain off-limits to children. They contain the video clips and audio and photographs of the most horrifying glimpses from that day.
Hard as they are to look at, those images are the most important to remember in the days after. And the weeks and months and years and decades after.
We don’t want to look at them any more than we wanted to be attacked that day. But we were. And we must.
Remember what they did to innocent people. Remember who died. And remember who killed them.
Perhaps the most graphic and haunting image is the one captured by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew that has come to be known as “The Falling Man.”
That picture, snapped at 9:41 on Sept. 11, shows a man wearing a white top and black pants in a perfectly vertical dive — one knee cocked — knifing through wisps of smoke from the top floors with the steel and glass of the North Tower trembling in the background.
It is a troubling reminder that as much as we would like to look away, we cannot. We should not.
There was understandable controversy about the photograph at the time of its publication. All were horrified and some argued that it was in poor taste to publish.
Perhaps. But it was true nonetheless.
One of the most suffocatingly beautiful stories ever written about 9/11 came two years after the attack when Tom Junod sought to track down the doomed man in the picture. His story, “The Falling Man: An unforgettable story,” appeared in Esquire magazine. It is a tribute to why we must remember terrible things.
In the 20 years since, Mr. Junod still keeps his promise to remember The Falling Man — even as Facebook recently censored the picture for violating “community standards.” The company says it is worried that the picture might “promote or encourage self-harm or suicidal behavior.”
The only thing “suicidal” about the picture is to fail to see it.
“The photograph has never lost its power,” Mr. Junod wrote in response to Facebook’s censorship. “It remains shocking and upsetting to many. But that is as it should be, because the loss the photograph represents is eternal.”
One room at the museum beneath Ground Zero is dedicated to the innocents who leapt from top floors of the burning buildings. Witnesses recall a woman who modestly folds her skirt before stepping off the ledge — a final act of defiant human dignity.
The witnesses standing below or watching from nearby buildings remember the agony of watching the men and women falling. But the witnesses felt duty-bound to watch — to not look away.
Over the past two decades, politicians have twisted the events of that day to push political agendas. We have been to war. Innocent American individuals gave up freedoms. Our federal government was made more powerful than ever.
Even today, politicians use 9/11 to hector and bully political opponents or voters who support their political opponents. It is the disease of politicians.
Our duty is to remember. And we remember by looking at images of the unthinkable.
• Charles Hurt is the opinion editor of the Washington Times.
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