Acclaimed memoirist Binyavanga Wainaina talks about his writing, Africa today and his new life as an openly gay man.
By: Alex Ashlock
On Sept. 11, Michael Benfante became a reluctant hero. He and a co-worker carried a woman in a wheelchair down 68 floors of the north tower of the World Trade Center to safety.
Right after he put her in an ambulance, a camerman asked him what he had seen, his response was captured in this CBS video:
Minutes later, the tower fell and Michael dove under a truck as the dust cloud chased him down.
In the aftermath of 9/11, he became a media darling, appearing on a number of shows, including Oprah. He got married almost a year to the day after the attacks, and had a son, but the storybook ending wasn’t the whole story.
“Why did I survive? What am I supposed to do now? It made for a lot of confusion,” he told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “It was hard to focus my thoughts on the good that occurred that day.”
It was the good that occurred that day that everyone wanted to hear, but the darker images began to overshadow everything else in Michael’s mind.
“I saw bodies falling,” he said. “The thought of a person being brought to that point, it just kills me, it angers me.”
And then there were the firefighters he passed on the way down all those floors.
“They were going up as everyone was going down and all they kept saying everything’s going to be ok, and you could tell what their lips were saying their eyes weren’t telling the same story. But to me you can’t call me a hero, not when you think of them.”
Putting it all down on paper, the good and the bad, has helped Michael Benfante recover from the depression and drinking that have dogged him since 9/11.
“You know I try to think of my family and my son,” he says today. “And think about how I’m doing them a disservice by not picking myself up and doing the right thing. What better way to memorialize those firemen, what better way to honor them to go out and be a decent person. It doesn’t take much to be considerate of others, putting them first sometimes.”