Friday, September 14, 2012

A 9/11 Story: Transcendence in the Face of Death

Today marks the eleventh anniversary of the 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon. Everyone personally involved that day, whether victim or survivor, has a story to tell, tales of kindness and courage, selflessness and sorrow, even generosity and joy. Now the Stamford Advocate relates a poignant new one.

Trapped in his offices in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, very near the impact of United Airlines Flight 175, Randy Scott jotted down this terse SOS on a piece of paper:

84th floor
West Office
12 people trapped

Presumably he released it from a window, because the note drifted from that 84th floor to the street below, where someone found it and gave it to a guard at the Federal Reserve Bank. The guard went to report the note, but the Tower collapsed.

The Federal Reserve kept the note and eventually turned it over to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. The museum shared the note with the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of New York, which was finally able to trace it to Randy in the summer of 2011, thanks to a thumbprint-sized spot of blood on the note which DNA testing proved was his. This confirmation enabled the ME's office to reach out to his wife.

Denise Scott learned of her husband's message just ahead of the ten-year anniversary of the attacks. “I'm speechless that they actually were able to identify it,” Denise said. “This note was written on September 11. It came out of a window. Somebody had it. People had their hands all over it.”

All along, Denise and her three grown daughters had believed and hoped that Randy died instantly when the plane hit. The note was evidence he had not. It changed not just Randy's narrative, but that of the eleven other people mentioned in the note; it was closure, albeit a tragic one.

Denise is now allowing the museum to exhibit the note. Jan Ramirez, chief curator of the museum, says it is “exceptionally rare. I don't know of anything else like it. There have been other pieces of paper that came out of the towers that day, to which we have been able to attach some powerful stories, but none have been quite as rare and unusual and inspiring and sad and touching as this particular one. It really is in a class by itself.”

“It tells people the story of the day,” Denise says.

The journey of Randy Scott’s note is one that could only take place in a country and a culture that affirms and reveres life, and that subconsciously understands the communal power of storytelling to carry our personal and public narratives forward even after death. It speaks volumes about Americans that every person who touched that note not only recognized its historic significance as a tiny fragment of that day’s tragic mosaic, but revered it enough to preserve it for ten years, unlock the mystery of its authorship, and transmit Randy’s voice through the years until he could speak one final time to his family, and then to others from a museum case.

The enemy that struck America on 9/11/2001 proudly claims to love death more than we love life. But a culture that embraces death is already a dead one, and a culture that values each of our lives and each of our stories is transcendent.

(This article originally appeared here at Acculturated, 9/11/12)