Frozen in Time
September 18, 2001
People who played some part in the World Trade Center disaster can't stop talking about it -- at
least, those who survived. The family members of the missing grow more silent as hope fades,
their early desperation to find their loved one easing into that unbearable realization that death
had taken their songs or daughters, husbands or wives.
"People kept telling Barbara Strobert that there's still hope," Tom Troyer told me. "She glared at
them and told them not to tell her that. `He's dead!' she screamed, `stop telling me there can be
The collapse of the two towers on September 11 has even left the media stunned. We don't show
photos of the carnage. We take on father the figures officials issue as for the numbers dead --
even though we know many more perished than the missing person's reports indicate. As
reporters, we're supposed to seek out these grieved souls and acquire their stories so we can
print moving accounts for others to gloat over -- as if the tales of the survivors were not enough
to satisfy the insatiable blood lust of the public.
I prefer the survivors, that moment in time when each came fact to face with death and, for some
unknowable reason, came away -- not unscathed -- alive, each person transformed by the
experience in a way the loved ones of the missing cannot be.
The dead do not change except to decompose, and in many ways, those waiting word of the
missing are dying, too, as if each mourner has become a portrait of the missing, to age in place of
the person who has passed on, time decomposing their minds and hearts the way the disaster did
the bodies of those who died in the crash of the towers.
Six days after the event, I returned to Hoboken peir to sit and write and stare. Already fewer
people come to the riverside to look out at the gap in the skyline than the day before, fewer pause
to read the posters or ponder over the photographs of the missing. In the days and weeks to
come, even fewer will pause as the memory of the disaster fades. The survivors move on, grow,
learn to live. Only the mourners will come here to grieve, their lives frozen in time, their minds
replaying the mental videos of when each plane struck and when each tower fell -- and in their
desperation, they try to catch a glimpse in that hellish moment, the face or features of a loved
one, each lacking a sound or image of death which will allow them to bury the remains.
The woman sitting on the wall a few feet to my left cries, stifling the act as if she is ashamed, her
stare telling me she loved someone who had not survived, and that in years to come I will find
her here again, searching the horizon for clues -- clues not just to the fate of the person she loved,
but more for a reason why this person had to die when so many others survived.