On this anniversary of the September Eleventh attacks, you’ll see a lot of tributes and memorials and remembrances and analysis. If you read only one thing, though, make sure it is this essay, “Leap,” by Brian Doyle. One hundred years from now, people will still be reading this piece — that’s how good it is.
It’s a very short read — less than 600 words — but it’s an arrow to the heart. Doyle presents with startling specificity one of the darkest moments of that day: trapped by fire high in the World Trade Center buildings, people leaped out of windows and “struck the pavement with such force that there was a pink mist in the air.” Then, within that darkness, he finds a spark of hope — the way two of those people were holding hands:
I try to whisper prayers for the sudden dead and the harrowed families of the dead and the screaming souls of the murderers but I keep coming back to his hand and her hand nestled in each other with such extraordinary ordinary succinct ancient naked stunning perfect simple ferocious love.
Doyle was born in New York City, and he had a friend who died in the attack. For the longest time, he said, he was unable to write about that day. When his kids asked him how he was going to respond, he said it was too terrible and horrifying to try to capture in words. But then they told him that he always said that they should share their gifts with the world and he was a writer and if he didn’t share his writing about this then he wasn’t sharing his gifts with the world. So he sat down and wrote. “Leap” is what came out.
He wrote six other essays about the terrorist attacks on the Eleventh, but “Leap” is what he’ll be remembered for, maybe forever. So give it a read and it will change the way you think about what happened that day. Even better — listen to him read it: