Those 9/11 Photos Still Make Me Ill

The World Trade Center in New York.
Image via Wikipedia

The hand-wringing sentimental Niagara has begun.

My latest copy of New York magazine arrived, its cover a color photo of the dust cloud after the fall of the Twin Towers. Inside, it offers an alphabet (!?) of all things 9/11, from three men named Michael Lynch who died that day to a mini-profile of the last person pulled from the Trade Center wreckage.

Stop. Just stop.

I was shocked at my reaction when I tried to read that issue. I fought back tears, then had nightmares after I read some of it. So did the sweetie. We’re both hardened, seasoned mid-career news journalists, accustomed to handling difficult and emotional material.

No matter. It’s just too damn much.

Here’s The New York Times‘ survey of how some journalists are covering this 10th anniversary:

The National Geographic Channel has scheduled a marathon of related coverage on Sept. 11.

Other outlets also decided to try to get out ahead of the pack. Adam Moss, the editor of New York magazine, decided its issue — an A to Z compendium of Sept. 11-related vignettes — should be published well ahead of the 10th anniversary so it would reach readers before the onslaught of coverage began.

“I’m sure, inevitably, people will feel it’s too much and shut down at some point,” he said. “We just hoped we could get what we feel is a pretty good issue out there before others did.”

I was in Maryland that day and the sweetie was all packed, everything he owned ready to move from Brooklyn into my apartment 30 miles north. Instead, as a photo editor for The New York Times, he was pressed into immediate service on the biggest news story of the century. The paper won the team Pulitzer for their work that day.

But we both tasted far more of 9/11 than we had ever wished. Burned bits of paper floated into his backyard. I interviewed a volunteer who worked at the morgue and cried for 30 minutes after I hung up the phone, my professional composure shattered by the hideous details of what I heard.

For my first book, I interviewed Patty Varone, a true unsung heroine of that day whose name is unknown to almost every American — but whose role in it was essential. I’m the only journalist she ever spoke to.

She was for years his personal bodyguard, and so it was she who interrupted Mayor Giuliani’s hotel breakfast meeting that morning to tell him he had to leave at once. It was she who had to keep him safe — how? — as debris and bodies rained from the skies when they arrived at the attack site in downtown Manhattan.

It takes a lot to rattle an 18-year NYPD veteran. She had a tough time telling me her story. I’m grateful she shared it.

Journalists — print, film and broadcast — saw and heard far more than many civilians did that day. Many things we know and saw were carefully edited out of much of what you, the reading/viewing public, “know” about 9/11. We still carry smells, sights and sounds we wish we could scrub from our memory, but we can’t.

We know people who lost loved ones. We know fellow journalists physically and emotionally scarred by the events of that day.

So I have no need, and very little appetite, for any more of this.

How about you?

9 thoughts on “Those 9/11 Photos Still Make Me Ill

  1. I am not sure how much of the coverage I will be able to handle. It has already been a tough week. Saturday night, after returning from a game of scrabble with a friend, I had an email from another friend that one of her sons had committed suicide the previous day. Then Sunday morning as I opened up my FB page I saw a note from a few people about the sadness at the loss of someone we all knew…a 46 year old man, father of six children, grandfather of two, speaker/teacher/storyteller about social media around the world. Sunday morning he committed suicide outside of a church. He was well-known and this news has shocked and saddened us all.
    I have been hearing much about others who have committed suicide over the last few years, and many more still who have gone through depression and considered taking their lives at different times in their lives…but thank God they didn’t.

  2. Thanks Caitlin. Yes, I will make sure I keep a smile in my heart knowing that God is good, these things will pass and there are even better days ahead. It does give us pause and time to remember how important it is to reach out to others.

  3. crgardenjoe

    An eloquent reminder that, while all of us “remember when,” what we were doing that day, how we heard, our visceral reaction, for those of you who were journalists in New York, the memories are still raw.

  4. On the subject of covering the tenth anniversary of 9/11, The Sunday Times Magazine (UK) has a story in it from this Sunday that tells the story about the people who jumped from the twin towers as they stood burning. I haven’t read it as I don’t have a copy from home and I’m avoiding buying things on the internet (it will cost you the extortinate price of one pound!). There are a few other articles related to 9/11 which may be worth reading, notably the Spectrum section and also possibly if your stomach can handle it, an interview with Dick Cheney. I thought that these might be of interest to yourself and some of your readers.

    Back to the actual 9/11. I think the thing that sticks in my mind the most about the tragedy is how clear and blue the sky was that morning. This sticks in my mind more than the plume of smoke darkening it.

  5. Jane

    It was the darkest of days, but it also inspired…
    I remember the day, and the emptiness I felt. I had lunch with some Rotary friends, because I needed human companionship. One of my lunchmates was called away in the middle of the meal because she is a Salvation Army officer, and she was being called to serve.
    I live in Newfoundland, and we hosted over ten thousand trans-Atlantic airline passengers as the skies were emptied of planes. In some small communities especially around Gander, NL, the number of guests exceeded the number of residents.
    The stories we have been retelling this week are stories of happy experiences, friendships formed that will last a lifetime. I heard a interview on CBC-NL this week with a man from Cincinnati (sp?) who said when he and his family got home, the experience seemed surreal. His friends and neighbours were in a deep funk, retelling and reliving the tragedy, while he and he and his family felt warm and happy, secure in the goodness of man.
    I know there were stories in NYC of human kindness, too. When you’re remembering the horror and sadness, also remember the good things people did, the heroes both sung and unsung. Otherwise, the terrorists win.

    1. Thanks so much for sharing this story….It is so easy to focus on the horror, when you, as we do, live in NY…and forget (because we did not experience it at all) what you describe.

      Amazing stuff.

  6. It was very personal. Our lives frozen. “I was in Maryland that day and the sweetie was all packed, everything he owned ready to move from Brooklyn into my apartment 30 miles north.” For me it was the lowest point in my life. I woke the bastard, the father of my children, the man who was divorcing me and had refused to leave, to tell him terrorist attacked the city where he works the night shift. I then went into work at the middle school where mother’s rushed to embrace their children while their husband’s responded and died at ground zero. My son’s physical at Fort Hamilton 9/12 was postponed, as they were occupied. I would board four flights before the end of the year as it was the end of my mother’s life. September 11, 2011 my nineteen year old son said to me “Ma, you know what today is?” and I just broke down and cried. I avoided the television, newspapers, and magazines as it is too painful to look back remembering the church bells that rang endlessly and the funeral processions in Warwick, NY.

    They say tears are healing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s