The Falling Man Experience

 The following creative engagement experience proved to be beautiful and enriching for the many older adult gatherings I facilitated. If interested in 28 similarly formatted creative engagement programs, you may purchase a copy of the book by clicking: Engage! 28 Creative Enrichment Experiences for Older Adults

The Falling Man Experience

By Kareen King

When to Use: April, May, August, and September


Photocopies of The Falling Man (available from the Internet).

Option: Enlist someone savvy with Photoshop to create an original version of The Falling Man photo. Otherwise, produce a good stick-figure depiction of a man in an upside-down position in the air.


Invite everyone to blow kisses to one another.


Conversation Starter: Where were you and/or what were you doing when you heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001?

Background Information:

The World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, New York City was attacked on September 11, 2001 when Al-Qaeda-affiliated hijackers flew two Boeing 767 jets into the complex, beginning with the North Tower at 8:46 a.m., followed by the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. 2,507 civilians, 72 law enforcement officers, 343 firefighters, and 55 military personnel were killed. The Falling Man is an iconic photograph of a 9/11 unidentified “jumper” who is captured upside down, perfectly vertical. The photograph was one of a 12-frame sequence of a free fall taken by photojournalist, Richard Drew, while on an unrelated assignment with the Associated Press. “The Falling Man” was one of hundreds of other “jumpers” who were forced out of the upper floors of the Twin Towers due to lack of any escape by stairs or roof. “The Falling Man’s” descent lasted about ten seconds, but his image endures forever, very much like the image of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Notable dates:

-          The groundbreaking of the original World Trade Center took place on August 25, 1966.

-          The landmark twin towers of the World Trade Center opened on April 4, 1973.

-          The twin towers, along with the 7 World Trade Center, were destroyed on September 11, 2001.

-          The Falling Man photo appeared on page one of the New York Times Book Review on May 27, 2007.

Activity: Collective Poem

Pass out a photocopy of the famous Falling Man photo to each participant. Ask the participants to share words or phrases that come to mind as they view the picture. Acknowledge each response verbally and on a dry erase board for visual learners.

The following poem came from a number of Experiences:

The Falling Man

Man upside down




I really don’t know what to think


A very bumpy ride

Fell outside

Total frustration

How did I get here?

A falling man


Makes me cry



Does he know what’s happening in the world?

Is he on his way to heaven without knowing it?

Is he conscious?

Did anyone really believe what they were seeing?

A falling man

A great disaster



No escape

Thinking of his family

He knows he’s gonna die

He prays he gets to heaven

So many people died that day

“God help me!”

It’s days like this we remember to say those words, “I love you.”

Activity: Something from Every Decade

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a 2011 film about a nine-year-old boy named Oskar who is convinced that his father, who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, has left a final message for him hidden somewhere in the city. After finding a mysterious key in his father’s closet, he begins a search through New York City for the lock for which it fits. The movie, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, contains images of “The Falling Man” as possibly being Oskar’s father. Eventually, Oskar imagines finding pictures of the falling body, ripping the pictures out of a book, then reversing the order of the fall, so that the last picture is first and the first is last. In the film, Oskar and his father played a game which was a reconnaissance expedition with instructions to search for something from every decade in the 20th century. Invite the participants to imagine holding a key which unlocks a safe which contains items from every decade in the 20th century. One by one, each participant describes the items they found and from which decade(s).

Option: If memory is an issue, facilitate a reminiscence discussion based on inventions from any of the following decades:

-          1900-1910

o   Teabag

o   Teddy Bear

o   Vacuum cleaner

o   Cornflakes

o   Instant coffee

-          1910-1920

o   Lifesavers candy

o   Crossword puzzle

o   Zipper

o   Bra

o   Pop-up toaster

-          1920-1930

o   Kool-Aid

o   Notebooks with spiral bindings

o   Frozen food

o   Bubble gum

o   Self-winding watch

-          1930-1940

o   Nylon-bristle tooth brushes

o   Brillo pads

o   Nancy Drew mysteries

o   Marbles

o   Yo-yo’s

-          1940-1950

o   7-inch screen television

o   Silly Putty

o   Duct tape

o   Scrabble

o   The Slinky

-          1950-1960

o   Mr. Potato Head

o   Hula Hoop

o   Car Seatbelts

o   The Barbie doll

o   Teflon coated pans

-          1960-1970

o   Audio cassette

o   Fiber-tipped pen

o   Non-dairy creamer

o   Permanent-press fabric

o   Hand-held calculator

-          1970-1980

o   Word processor

o   Post-it notes

o   Push-through tab on a drink can

o   Food processor

o   Platform shoes

-          1980-1990

o   Cabbage Patch kids

o   Apple Macintosh

o   Disposable camera

o   Prozac

o   High-definition television

-          1990-2000

o   Digital Answering Machine

o   The Smart Pill (any pill that can deliver or control its delivery of medicine without the patient having to take action beyond the initial swallow.

o   Viagra

o   The DVD

o   Web TV

Activity: 9-11 by Numbers – A Readers Theatre

Readers Theatre is a style of theatre in which the actors don’t need to memorize their lines. Actors use only vocal and facial expression rather than design elements to convey the story to the audience. Actors are seated in a row of chairs in front of the audience, with scripts held in similar fashion as choir music. Readers keep heads in bowed position when not reading. When it is their turn to read, they look up from the script, say the line, and then look back at the script. Invite four readers to perform the following piece, assigning a number to each performer:

9/11 - Count the Numbers

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 8:46 a.m. The moment Twin Tower One was struck.

TWO: 9:02 a.m. The moment Twin Tower Two was struck.

THREE: 56 – the number of minutes Twin Tower One stood after impact.

FOUR: 102 – the number of minutes Twin Tower Two stood after impact.

ONE: 2,606 – the number of people who died in the World Trade Center

TWO: 246 – the number of people who died in the airlines.

THREE: 125 – the number of people who died in the Pentagon Building.

FOUR: 19 – the number of highjackers who died

ONE: 12 – the number of seconds it took for the towers to fall.

TWO: 343 – the number of firefighters who died.

THREE: 23 – the number of New York Police Department officers who died.

FOUR: One – the firefighter killed by a man who jumped off the top floors.

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 37 – the number of Port Authority police officers who died.

TWO: 60 – the number of World Trade Center companies that lost people.

THREE: 1,402 – the number of employees who died in Tower One.

FOUR: 614 - the number of employees who died in Tower Two.

ONE: 658 – the number of employees lost at Cantor Fitzgerald.

TWO: 22 – the number of U.S. troops killed in Operation Enduring Freedom.

THREE: 115 – the number of nations whose citizens were killed in the attacks.

FOUR: 3 to 1 – the ratio of men to women who died.

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 35 to 39 – the ages of the greatest number who died.

TWO: 289 – the number of bodies found intact.

THREE: 19,858 – the number of body parts found.

FOUR: 1,717 – the number of families who got no remains.

ONE: 36,000 – the number of estimated units of blood donated to the New York Blood Center.

TWO: 258 –the number of total units of donated blood actually used.

THREE: 1,609 – the number of people who lost a spouse or partner in the attacks.

FOUR: 3,051 – the estimated number of children who lost a parent.

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 20 – the percentage of Americans who knew someone hurt or killed in the attacks.

TWO: 274 – the number of New York City Fire Department retirements from January to July, 2001.

THREE: 661 - the number of New York City Fire Department retirements from January to July, 2002.

FOUR: 300 – the number of firefighters on leave for respiratory problems by January, 2002.

ONE: 200 – the number of funerals attended by Rudy Giuliani in 2001.

TWO: 98 – the number of New York City Fire Department vehicles destroyed.

THREE: 1,506,124 – the tons of debris removed from the site.

FOUR: 99 – the number of days fires continued to burn after the attack.

           ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

           ONE: 146,100 – the number of jobs lost in New York owing to the attacks.

TWO: 6 – the number of days the New York Stock Exchange was closed.

THREE: 684.81 – the point drop in the Dow Jones industrial average when the New York Stock Exchange reopened.

FOUR: 26 – the number of days after 9/11 that the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan.

ONE: 105 billion dollars – the economic loss to New York in the month following the attacks.

TWO: 600 million dollars – the estimated cost of cleanup.

THREE: 970 million dollars – the total FEMA money spent on the emergency.

FOUR: 1.4 billion dollars – the estimated amount donated to 9/11 charities.

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 40.5 billion dollars – the estimated amount of insurance paid worldwide related to 9/11.

TWO: 7.5 billion dollars – the estimated amount of money needed to overhaul lower-Manhattan subways.

THREE: 4.55 billion dollars – the amount of money granted by the U.S. government to overhaul lower-Manhattan subways.

FOUR: 500 million dollars – the estimated amount of money raised for funds dedicated to the New York Police Department and the New York Fire Department..

ONE: 25 – the percentage of total charity money raised going to New York Fire Department and New York Police Department families.

TWO: One million dollars – the average benefit received by each New York Fire Department and New York Police Department widow.

THREE: 17.9 – the percent increase in law-school applications from 2001 to 2002.

FOUR: 40 – the percentage increase in Peace Corps applications from 2001 to 2002.

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 50 – the percentage increase in CIA applications from 2001-2002.

TWO: 150 – the number of songs Clear Channel Radio considered “inappropriate” to play after 9/11.

THREE: 26 – the number of mentions of 9/11 at the Oscars.

FOUR: 30,000 – the number of apartments in lower Manhattan eligible for asbestos cleanup.

ONE: 1.4 million – the number of Americans who changed their 2001 holiday-travel plans from plane to train or car.

TWO: 422,000 – the estimated number of New Yorkers suffering from post-traumatic-stress disorder as a result of 9/11.

           THREE: 1,300 – the number of orphans created by the 9/11 attacks.

FOUR: 17 – the number of babies born to women whose husbands were lost on September 11.

ALL: Nine eleven. Count the numbers.

ONE: 2,996 – the total number of people who died in the attacks of 9/11.

           TWO: Zero – the number of survivors rescued from Ground Zero.

THREE: 2014 – the year the National September 11 Memorial and Museum was opened to the public

FOUR: Three – the number of the most important words exchanged between loved ones who received phone calls prior to the collapse of the Twin Towers.

ALL: And those three words were, “I love you.” Say it with us, “I love you.” Say it again, “I love you.” Nine eleven. Count the numbers.


After the Experience, ask the participants to identify memorable moments from the session.


The saying “yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery” has been cited in print since at least 1967. Bill Keane, author of the newspaper comic strip The Family Circus, however, brought the phrase to further prominence by adding an additional nugget of wisdom: “But today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” Invite the participants to form a circle. Repeat the phrase in its entirety: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery, but today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the present.” Instruct everyone to extend their arms forward, with hands in an upward cupped position as if offering a gift. Encourage each to look at the person across or adjacent and say collectively, “I offer you the gift of the present.”  A 96-year-old participant named John added, “There are three ways to show someone you love them: 1) Say ‘I love you,’ 2) Human touch, and 3) Give the gift of a present.”


The following songs, which can be viewed on YouTube, are related to the theme of The Falling Man Experience:

-          Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova

-          At Last by Marck Gordon and Harry Warren

-          Hi-Lili, Hi-Lo by Helen Deutsch and Bronislau Kaper

-          Softly as I Leave You by Hal Shaper and A. De Vita

-          Today by Randy Sparks