Poem: Choice

Like everyone, I remember where I was on September 11, 2001. We all felt the shock and horror of what happened in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania, and fear of how widespread it might be. I was in Omaha and vividly remember freaking out when I heard a low-flying jet after all planes had been grounded. I looked up to see Air Force One taking President Bush to Stratcom.

But the images and feelings from Ground Zero had and have the most pull. The first responders going up those stairs when everyone else was going the other way; the ERs waiting for patients who would never come. But what’s haunted me most of all are the people who leaped to their deaths. In the 10th anniversary issue of The New Yorker, Edwidge Danticat said ” . . . I kept thinking about a clear blue sky that had rained lives.” I kept thinking about it too, and about what it must have been like to make that terrible choice.


All of the choices in your life
Led you to this one;
Taking a job in a tower
That scrapes the heavens;
Showing up for a meeting with clients
That clear blue day.
Now the gruesome games we played
As children are made all too real;
Would you rather go deaf
Or blind? Drown
Or die in a fire?
You have to choose!
And you do.
Sheathed in smoke and tar-black fear
You pause at Hell’s threshold
Then lean out, take a deep breath
And leap into the waiting arms of God.

-Jackie Fox


23 thoughts on “Poem: Choice

  1. Oh, Jackie. This is so beautiful. As just one of many that worked in office buildings all over Manhattan, I, too am haunted by those that were just going about their business that day, only to have their world crash down around. They were just going to work, as we all do. Thank you for your lovely poem, which I’m going to repost.

  2. Jackie,
    Your poem is so poignant and beautiful. I remember that childhood game. Who would have thought we’d ever have to really make those kinds of hellacious choices? Watching some of the 911 footage this weekend reminds me that Americans are inherently courageous, and New Yorkers epitomize resilience, strength and courage. I can’t imagine what it must of been like to have lived there during and after 911.

    • Thank you, Brenda. I can’t imagine what it must have been like either. I wonder how it feels now, to live there and remember that happened at your home. And I wonder what it must have felt like to be faced with that horrible choice.

  3. Jackie,
    I know I sent you a thank you tweet when I read this yesterday but since your blog is on my growing list, I saw the new post.

    Those who made that awful choice were ignored for so long. I recall in the days after being on the phone for business with people all around the country. Most asked what it was like even though I watched so much on TV. My “spouse” did not. He stood across the river with hundreds of people who knew EXACTLY what they were witnessing. I remember when he returned home that day and I remember him describing the scene and the sobbing of the people who were watching this. And yet, as I said in my own memories of this day, these people were forgotten for so long.

    I appreciate the powerful voice you have given to them. Thank you, again.

    • AnneMarie,
      Thank you so very much for your comments. Those souls deserve not to be forgotten and I hope in some small way I helped. I didn’t set out to give anyone a voice as much as I wondered what that must have felt like, but if in trying to imagine it I did give them a voice, that makes me very happy. Thank you again.

  4. This was absolutely beautiful. I, like most Americans, spent most of Sunday watching the extremely emotional coverage of the 10 year anniversary. It was a day filled with tears and endless questions. I’ll never forget the imagery of these disasters and the thought of all the people who faced death in such a horrific act of terrorism. Your poem was emotional, timely and encouraging. I truly believe that the lives lost are in a better place–thanks for honoring them with such beautiful words.

  5. To mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11, my regular Sunday newspaper had an in depth article on those who chose to jump and since reading it, I’ve been haunted by the images all over again and thinking about what must have been going through their minds. Your poem helped enormously. I cried reading it, but something inside me also stirred at the brave choice these people made to have some final sense of choice and control over their lives – the last line of your poem in particular is incredibly powerful.

    • Thank you, Marie. I think they will haunt many of us for a long time. I agree with you, I very much believe that their final act was to control their destiny as best they could. I’m glad my poem helped.

  6. You’re very brave to write about this, Jackie. Those were such horrific moments . . . the most powerful, the most heart wrenching. . .good on you for putting those emotions into words. I think that really takes guts.

    • Thanks so much, Catherine. Not brave so much as compelled to do it. Not sure why this poem decided to show up but I felt like I had to honor it (and them). To be honest, I’m not sure why any poems decide to show up.

  7. It had to be extremely bad for people to jump out of the building was my first thought about people falling from the building. And it tore my heart thinking about them having to make such a choice. And then I thought that maybe they were disoriented, confused and unable to see. And as they felt for an exit unknowing it was the window. And maybe the unknowing made it easier for them. My mind wants to know that they did not suffer as much as what took place shows. It is hard to wrap my brain around it because it is so horrific. I shed tears for all. Thanks for providing a space to share.

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