Our latest Notable Narrative comes from the Boston Globe project “9/11: 10 years on,” a wide-ranging collection of print stories, slide shows and video. Many news organizations have unveiled impressive packages for the 10th anniversary of the attack on the U.S., but we were particularly impressed by Eric Moskowitz’s story “Little noted or known, they bear the scars of that day.”*
Moskowitz’s piece is the third of eight articles for the Globe’s 9/11 project, and looks at a small set of survivors:
They are the rarely noticed casualties of the terrorist attacks: the security guard, the ticket agent, the baggage handler on the ramp. They made it home that night, but with images they couldn’t shake, a pain uncomfortable to voice. They can’t believe it has been 10 years. They can’t believe it has only been 10 years.
Trying to reflect the point of view of several characters can sabotage the readability of a narrative. But by selecting a focused group of people, Moskowitz pulls it off. He looks at Logan Airport employees who, in some heroic fantasy of omniscience or psychic radar, might have stopped the attacks, or at least kept someone on board one of the doomed flights from dying.
But fantasy is not real, and no psychic radar exists. The ticket agent thoughtfully shepherds two of the terrorists to their flight. At the last minute, the baggage handler interdicts luggage that holds all the clues of what was about to unfold – but he doesn’t open it in time. Stories of the people who survived terrible moments of lethal ignorance at Logan Airport intertwine in an ongoing series of “what ifs.”
With such a momentous event, Moskowitz is wise to go small and stick close. Instead of one-off quotes from characters reflecting on the past, which would distance readers, he opts for bits of dialogue, mostly taken from 9/11 itself. Instead of trying to capture the scope of the horror, he gives us a cat throwing up on a carpet or a flight attendant late for work. He will not let us out of the moment, or that day, until we see it through the eyes of those who will always wonder if they could have done something to stop it.
Mercifully, the story doesn’t frog-march readers into a staged sense of closure. It doesn’t even suggest that final healing is possible. Instead, Moskowitz gives readers a muted tribute to those still trying to restart their lives, still learning the impossibility of erasing the past.
Image from AP Photo/Portland Police Department.
*Registration is required, but access is free.