The Eyes Of A 9/11 Survivor

By Artie Van Why (

Consider the eyes of a 9/11 survivor.

If you could look into them intensely, there would be a story in that pair of eyes staring back at you. A story of survival. For some survivors, it’s a story that needs to be told again and again; while for others, it’s a story they pray they could forget.

If eyes are indeed the windows to our soul, a survivor’s eyes will reflect a soul that is tormented. A soul that is in pain. A soul that suffers. A soul that saw too much.

If somehow you could get behind those eyes, and into the memories those eyes hold, you would finally know, perhaps more than you wish, what those eyes witnessed the morning of September 11, 2001.

What I, and every other 9/11 survivor I know, saw that morning could drive a person away from sanity. And for some of us, we teeter on the edge of madness; always fearful of what might push us over the edge. Could it be a familiar sound or smell that brings up a suppressed recollection from the morning of 9/11? Might it be an airplane overhead or the wail of a siren? The screams of children at play? Or perhaps a memory that is so miniscule, or one too enormous, to finally face?

We survivors witnessed the horrors of what trained men and women of the military see every day of their active duty. But we had no training for combat. We never expected to find ourselves on a battlefield. Yet, that morning we were reluctantly there on the frontlines; standing transfixed by the, up until then, unimaginable. I still stumble over words to describe what my eyes saw. Horrific is the one word that always comes to mind yet that is a feeble attempt at describing the indescribable.

What I, and the others, saw through our soul’s windows stays with us to this day. We never know when a specific image might be projected onto our thoughts as if on an IMAX screen.

And at night, with our eyes closed during a sound sleep, a dream can intrude and it will be as if heavy dark draperies that were closed to block out the sun are suddenly thrown open and instead of the sun pouring in and blinding us, we see a falling body. That is but one of the permanent photographs our eyes took that morning.

You’ve seen the many photos that were taken that day. You have seen some of what I’m referring to. But you are looking at those photos from a safe distance. For you, they are just photographic evidence of history.

Imagine, if you can, putting yourself in one of those photos. Imagine you are among the onlookers. One of those people who stood transfixed by the catastrophic moments.

Imagine what story your eyes might have to tell.

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