Today is the 12-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11. On social media, thousands have shared their memories of that day and have paid tribute both to those who lost their lives and those who risked their lives to save others. I was teaching high school English that Tuesday morning and had arrived at school after the attacks began. I was not watching as the second plane struck the tower. In fact, the south tower had collapsed before I even knew there had been an attack. My 2nd period class streamed in, some of them crying, asking me why I didn't have my television on. They talked all at once, about planes and explosions and falling buildings. I went to my computer first, to verify that what I was hearing was true. Before I could pull up the CNN website, one of my colleagues stuck her head into my classroom.
"Have you heard?"
She quickly filled me in on what she knew. I turned the television on and started watching. The students continued to file into class and many of them gravitated toward the television. Then one young lady said, "Please don't make us watch it. Someone jumped. We saw it."
I wanted to know what was happening in New York, but when I saw her face, I knew that it was more important that I turn off the television and just be there for my students.
So the television was turned off. The students sat down. I took attendance. And I let them talk and ask questions and comfort one another.
Later that afternoon, I went home. I felt a little like I'd spent the day in a time warp since I hadn't watched television and spent limited time on the Internet. I immediately turned on the news and tried to piece together what had happened over the past eight hours. I watched the plane crash into the tower, the fires burn, the buildings fall. I listened to all the details, of the attacks in New York and in Washington, of the heroes who had lost their lives in a Pennsylvania field.
And then I saw the footage that had upset the girl in my 2nd period. I saw the people fall. Or in many instances, jump.
I turned the television off. I didn't watch again, limiting myself to written news and specific videos on the Internet.
Of all of the images of that day, those of men and women falling to their deaths has stayed with me the longest and affected me the most.
"Officially," no one actually jumped. The lives lost that day were all homicides. And I don't disagree with that ruling since none of them would have fallen from the building if it hadn't been attacked. But there are witnesses who watched people leap from windows, some holding hands with others.
I think about those people, looking down as the fire and flames closed in on them. I can't imagine the fear, the pain, the hopelessness they felt. They knew they would not be rescued from the heat and the suffocation. They were desperate for fresh air, for an escape from the inferno that raged around them.
I don't know their names or their faces, but I will never forget those images.
This week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and I can't help but think again of those people. Please don't misunderstand. I don't believe that those who jumped that day actually committed suicide in the sense that they chose to take their own lives. Their lives had already been ripped away from them by those who hijacked the airplanes that September morning. But when I think of the 36,000 Americans who give up each year, who leave behind friends and family to grieve, I have to wonder if they share some of the same feelings as those who stood in the broken windows of the Twin Towers on 9/11.
I think about the husbands and mothers and sons and sisters who suffered with severe depression, with bipolar disorder, with so many mental illnesses that pushed them to give up on life. I picture them in my mind, staring out a window, framed by broken glass. They were afraid. They were desperate. They were hopeless. They didn't know how to save themselves. No one else saved them, though some may have tried in vain. Death would be painful, but they believed it would be a release from the pain and suffocation of living. They saw their lives as a burning building that couldn't be extinguished, only escaped at any cost.
No one could save those poor men and women at the World Trade Center.
There are so many lives that can be saved, though. There are people who feel that same desperation. that same entrapment, that the victims of 9/11 felt. They aren't surrounded by falling buildings and fires and news cameras, though. They are sitting in the next cubicle at work. They are staring at us from desks in classrooms. We pass them on sidewalks, sit beside them at church, leave comments on their Facebook statuses, share meals with them. Statistically speaking, right now there is someone you care about--a friend or a family member--who is struggling just to keep living. And there are thousands and thousands more you do not know--that you'll never know--who are hurting, who are in need of help, of hope.
IMAlive is an online crisis network where 100% of the volunteers are trained and certified in crisis intervention. They provide 24/7 crisis support via chat. There are three things you can do to help IMAlive to help those who are considering suicide:
1. Spread the word. Share IMAlive on your Facebook page, Twitter or blog. Get the word out that help is available. Don't assume that everyone in your life is "okay."
2. Donate! You can donate to IMAlive at any time, but right now you can participate in the IMAlive 24 x 7 Giving Challenge. Your donation will cover operational costs or even pay for new volunteers to become certified so that IMAlive can continue to provide 24/7 care. I've provided a widget below.
3. Volunteer. If you'd like more information on becoming a crisis center volunteer, you may find information here. This is not something everyone is called to do, but it is an opportunity to make a huge difference in someone else's life.