The 9/11 video I can't stop thinking about

I suppose everyone – or at least those of us who lived through the surreal storyline of September 11, 2001 in real time – has one. We all have that one individual that we think of whenever this day rolls around each year on the calendar. The one or two figures that our mind gravitates towards and we – as much as we can anyway – imagine ourselves in their shoes, thinking their thoughts, and feeling their emotions as those terrifying moments unfolded around them.

Maybe you think of Tom Burnett, the married dad of three little girls, who sat down on United 93 that morning not realizing he was moments from being thrust into an end-of-life drama that would involve him scouring the Pennsylvania countryside for a rural area before attempting to storm a cockpit and thwart a terror attack.

Maybe you think of Brian David Sweeney, whose message to his loving wife Julie is forever preserved on her now decades-old answering machine.

Or perhaps you think about the heroic rescue of Port Authority Police Sgt. John McLoughlin, who survived the collapse of the two towers and was immortalized in Oliver Stone's hit movie "World Trade Center."

And there are so many others…

  • The well-known "falling man" whose free fall from Tower 2 birthed a documentary.
  • Betty Ong, the flight attendant whose remarkably calm call from American 11 to report a hijacking was the first hint of trouble that day.
  • Kevin Cosgrove, whose 911 call from his office included the terrifying low rumble of his building collapsing from underneath his feet.

I've thought about all of them quite frequently through the years. But these days, the subject of 9/11 can't come up without me thinking about her. Authorities feel confident they've identified her as Edna Cintron. Most people don't realize it, but Edna was the single most photographed and recorded victim of the terror attacks that day. That's because every camera that was focused on the gaping hole created by American 11 in the side of the North Tower inadvertently captured her.

Somehow, some way, this woman who worked as a receptionist for Marsh & McLennan on floors 94 and 95, between columns 35 and 36 of WTC 1, had survived the impact of the first devastating strike. Undoubtedly disoriented by the noxious fumes of jet fuel, the searing heat of oil and flame, the confusion and terror of this explosive moment in time, she managed to traverse across crumpled steel and wreckage, through blinding black smoke, towards the light. She emerged from the cavernous hole on the very edge of a skyscraper, clutching a beam, and waving. Waving to be noticed, waving to say there were survivors, waving to ask for help, waving perhaps just to know she was alive.

I think about her and try to imagine what her last day on earth must have been like. Her husband William said they had a routine – she would get off work a couple hours before him, come home, cook supper, they would eat together, and enjoy a nightly bowl of ice cream as they watched TV before going to bed. I wonder if that Tuesday morning she woke up, got dressed, did her make-up, laid something out to thaw for supper that night, grabbed her purse, and headed out the door for the last time. I wonder if she looked up at the commanding towers as she arrived for work, thinking how massive they were. But I doubt it. This was routine. It's what she did every day without thinking.

She took the elevators to her office floor, probably spoke to some colleagues, maybe grabbed a cup of coffee from the office pot, and settled in at her desk. Or maybe she had gone to the bathroom deeper inside the building's structure. Perhaps that was what allowed her to survive the impact. I wonder if any of her colleagues saw the plane coming – if they had a chance to say anything, if they could even react. For so many of them, it was over in a flash. But not Edna.

As she stood there waving, did she realize there was no hope of rescue? Did she think of William and the bowl of ice cream she shared with him the night before? Did she even consider that the imposing building she knew so well was mortally wounded and only had a couple hours to remain standing? Did this woman who, according to her husband, loved to collect porcelain angel figurines, know that within just minutes she would be cradled by real ones?

Those are questions I can only speculate about, but I feel confident in saying that Edna Cintron was spending her last few moments on earth wondering what had happened, how it could have happened to her, and what she would have done differently if she'd have only known this would be it.

In that way, Edna gives me – someone she would never know – a gift. A gift of perspective, a gift of simple gratitude for another day.

Whether her final moments occurred just inside that ledge, in a blocked stairwell, or as many believe, in a desperate free fall, I hope with everything in me that she was ready.

And it remains my prayer that as the dramatic footage of that tragic morning has its annual review, every person who sees her tiny silhouette waving frantically, and futilely, will give some thought to their own mortality.

That they will choose a life impervious to burning buildings and smoke-filled stairwells.

That the tragic end of Edna's life will lead them to the life that never ends – no matter what evil intends.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Not the Bee or any of its affiliates.

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