Friday, September 11, 2009

11 seconds

It was 4:15 in the morning when I got out of bed, bleary-eyed, and stood in front of the t.v. My husband said something about a plane crashing into the World Trade Center tower. I strained to focus on the images in front of me, and it soon registered that something unthinkable was happening.

My then eleven year-old son Ryan was on the north shore at sixth-grade camp while my other son Noah, eleven months old, slept away soundly in the still-dark morning. I didn't sit down until I saw the second plane crash into the other tower. That's when the numbness kicked in. It was hard to think, and while yes, I was thousands of miles away from ground zero, I was 100% there.

I could smell it, feel it, taste it, and when I saw the footage of a woman falling to her death after jumping from somewhere high above the inferno, I closed my eyes and held my breath as I recalled my physics professor eight years prior challenging us to apply Galileo's rate of acceleration equation to figure out how long it takes for an object to hit the ground after being dropped from a specific height. I figured in my head that it must have taken about eleven seconds to fall from a 110-story building.

Eleven seconds. It doesn't seem like a very long time until you actually put yourself there in a smoke-laden office with the realization that there would be no chance of rescue and then start the clock as you live out the eleven-second decent. It's an eternity, and what has haunted me over the past eight years is what each of those who jumped must have thought about during those final eleven seconds. I've even stopped in my tracks a few times and tried to imagine what I would think about during my last eleven seconds. My kids. My dog. The unforgivable dirty dishes. The impact. The phone call I should have returned to a friend, but didn't.

Go ahead and time it.

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