I’m on a top floor of a tall skyscraper. There is a fire below and my office is filling with smoke. My coworkers, who have been screaming, stop their screams and all cough. I cough, too; desperately hacking until my head hurts. One man throws a desk chair through one of the tall windows and the draft pulls most of the smoke out. But still it comes and soon the room is filled again. Other men break other windows and we crowd around them for the fresh air, but now the flooring is getting hot. Some slide desks to the windows and we climb upon them, kicking aside the staplers, keyboards and inboxes, women tottering in their high heels. I do so as well, but reel back from the dizzying height of the gaping window. A crowd gathers on the street below, including fire trucks, but there is no way the trucks’ ladders would ever be able to reach us here.
I’m not the first to jump and, when I do so, it’s after carefully considering the alternatives. I think I would have been lucky to have passed out from the smoke, but we are beyond that now. The heat is intolerable and I cannot submit myself to being roasted alive. I do not jump to my death out the open window; I dive, head first, with a determination to achieve as much grace as I can out of the situation.
Now I am as relaxed as if I was flying first class on an airliner, my arms down by my side and my left leg resting casually at my knee. I am glad that I made this choice; the fear that had dominated me amid the smoke and flames has now been replaced by a rebelliousness and, within certain limits, freedom.
It takes about ten seconds for me to fall from such a great height, allowing me to relish my small victory. When I hit the pavement, the conventions of dreaming take over, and I jolt wide awake.
I had no desire to return to sleep after this dream, not because I feared returning to it, but because I wanted to taste and savor it. Being a shrink, I also dissected it thoroughly and found within it, the germs of that day’s suicide attempt, Daniel’s stories, and my musing on the Hanged Man.
My subconscious, processing the image of the Hanged Man, matched it with the similar image of the Falling Man that I had reluctantly carrying in my brain since 9/11. Horrified at witnessing such a personal death, I had hastily pushed that image away, like the rest of the world. However, my subconscious, like a grim old woman in an apartment stuffed with hoarded newspapers, pulled out the photograph that the editors had relegated to page forty-six ten years ago.
So what’s the point? I say to my subconscious. What are you trying to tell me? That the falling Man and the Hanged man are really the same archetype, a recurring myth that teaches freedom is gained after we relinquish control? That I should make another suicide attempt because I screwed the last one up? That Daniel is right and the stories of all our lives, which we believe are unique and personal, are really just retakes of the same scenes?
I am aware that the image of the Falling Man was really just one frame out of many out-takes that were discarded. The out-takes show the man tumbling awkwardly to his death just as anyone would.
The images a photographer keeps of a fall; the stories we tell of our lives; and the myths we pass on to our children are really carefully selected frames, as significant for what they omit as for what they keep. We do not go to our death with as much grace as we would like, nor do our lives make as much sense as we would like.
Rather than reduce my dream to a snapshot, I decide to let it stand as it is. I tear open a bag of chips and watch George Foreman peddle his Lean Mean Grilling Machine.
- New York Rubbish Breaks Fall Of Suicidal Man (news.sky.com)