Friday, September 9, 2011

A fate worse than death

I'm sitting at my desk on Friday night, mostly alone in the newsroom, praying there are no car accidents, fires or homicides tonight.

I am also crying my way through a collection of the most heart achingly beautiful stories I've read about Sept. 11.

One in particular I'm having a difficult time getting through. Esquire's The Falling Man, the story behind an iconic picture of a man who jumped from one of the towers. He was one of probably 200 who chose to die that way instead of in what others have described as hell.

Can you blame him?

The fate worse than death is when your life is not celebrated because of how you died. And in the case of this man and the others who chose to jump, I have to wonder why — not why they did it, but why they've been so condemned. Why people felt that a man who jumped from the 106th floor of a building that was going down made the choice to end his life at his own hands.

I hope we can all agree that the people who jumped are just as much homicide victims as the people in the planes and the people the towers came down on. They didn't choose to die that way. Once they realized death was imminent, they chose to do it their way. That isn't suicide. That there was uproar about using that picture and a choice to deny that people jumped shows dishonor to those people. They died as innocent victims of the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history. They died because they went to work that day.

I wish this was isolated and that we were only horrified at these specific instances. But it's not. I've talked to family members of people who have killed themselves, and others don't remember their loved one's life. They remember how they died. The victims — and yes, a person who dies by suicide is a victim of violence and pain and suffering that I hope you or I will never be able to comprehend — and their families are defined solely by the moment in which they pulled the trigger or kicked the chair away. They cannot be properly honored because to do so, people fear, would be to glorify how they died.

What that line of thinking is missing, however, is that honoring a person isn't about how he or she died. It's about how they lived, and it's about the victims who are still living.

Pain is an ugly thing. Those of us who don't understand the pain of another shouldn't stand in judgment over the choice that another, faced with either real or perceived worst outlook imaginable, makes. We instead should honor them by working to ensure no one needs to make that choice.

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