Saturday, May 25, 2002
If you can read The New York Times' package in today's paper entitled "102 Minutes" and still have dry eyes, you're a stronger person than I am.
Rescue workers did not get near them. Photographers could not record their faces. If they were seen at all, it was in glimpses at windows, nearly a quarter-mile up.
Yet like messages in an electronic bottle from people marooned in some distant sky, their last words narrate a world that was coming undone. A man sends an e-mail message asking, "Any news from the outside?" before perching on a ledge at Windows on the World. A woman reports a colleague is smacking useless sprinkler heads with his shoe. A husband calmly reminds his wife about their insurance policies, then says that the floor is groaning beneath him, and tells her that she and their children meant the world to him.
No single call can describe scenes that were unfolding at terrible velocities in many places. Taken together though, the words from the upper floors offer not only a broad and chilling view of the devastated zones, but the only window onto acts of bravery, decency and grace at a brutal time.
Eight months after the attacks, many survivors and friends and relatives of those lost are pooling their recollections, tapes and phone records, and 157 have shared accounts of their contacts for this article. At least 353 of those lost were able to reach people outside the towers. Spoken or written at the hour of death, these are intimate, lasting words. The steep emotional cost of making them public is worth paying, their families say, for a clearer picture of those final minutes.
The American public, famous for its short attention span, needs to see this kind of reporting on a regular basis. The war on terrorism is not nearly over, and many need the reminders.
*UPDATE* The Times needs to fix its Web site to allow you to read the entire articles -- they're very long, and it appears as though their software only allows a maximum of five Web pages worth of text.