The sounds of 9/11, beyond the metallic roar.
Everyone remembers the pictures, but I think more and more about the sounds. I always ask people what they heard that day in New York. We’ve all seen the film and videotape, but the sound equipment of television crews didn’t always catch what people have described as the deep metallic roar.
The other night on TV there was a documentary on the Ironworkers of New York’s Local 40, whose members ran to the site when the towers fell. They pitched in on rescue, then stayed for eight months to deconstruct a skyscraper some of them had helped build 35 years before. An ironworker named Jim Gaffney said, “My partner kept telling me the buildings are coming down and I’m saying ‘no way.’ Then we heard that noise that I will never forget. It was like a creaking and then the next thing you felt the ground rumbling.”
Rudy Giuliani said it was like an earthquake. The actor Jim Caviezel saw the second plane hit the towers on television and what he heard shook him: “A weird, guttural discordant sound,” he called it, a sound exactly like lightning. He knew because earlier that year he’d been hit. My son, then a teenager in a high school across the river from the towers, heard the first plane go in at 8:45 a.m. It sounded, he said, like a heavy truck going hard over a big street grate.
I think too about the sounds that came from within the buildings and within the planes–the phone calls and messages left on answering machines, all the last things said to whoever was home and picked up the phone. They awe me, those messages.
Something terrible had happened. Life was reduced to its essentials. Time was short. People said what counted, what mattered. It has been noted that there is no record of anyone calling to say, “I never liked you,” or, “You hurt my feelings.” No one negotiated past grievances or said, “Vote for Smith.” Amazingly –or not–there is no record of anyone damning the terrorists or saying “I hate them.”
No one said anything unneeded, extraneous or small. Crisis is a great editor. When you read the transcripts that have been released over the years it’s all so clear.
Flight 93 flight attendant Ceecee Lyles, 33 years old, in an answering-machine message to her husband: “Please tell my children that I love them very much. I’m sorry, baby. I wish I could see your face again.”
Thirty-one-year-old Melissa Harrington, a California-based trade consultant at a meeting in the towers, called her father to say she loved him. Minutes later she left a message on the answering machine as her new husband slept in their San Francisco home. “Sean, it’s me, she said. “I just wanted to let you know I love you.”