Looking down from a Freedom Tower window leads to a startling street scene

On my first visit to Miami, my host told me it’s a good place to write. I’m glad I listened and moved here. That trip included a stop at the Freedom Tower. I recognized its architecture from a trip to Spain, where I climbed to the top of the Giralda Tower, the inspiration for Miami’s landmark, and looked out over Seville to the ocean.

There’s another tower on the corner of Northeast Sixth Street and Biscayne Boulevard, “The Tower of Snow,” a bronze of a young boy on crutches carrying the weight of his home on his back, erected to commemorate Operation Pedro Pan and the child refugees brought to the United States at the start of the Communist revolution in Cuba. It symbolizes an immigrant’s feelings of duality, fragility and exile — feelings I relate to, having grown up a military brat, in a different kind of diaspora. I’m at home in Miami, where hardly anyone seems to be from here. For the most part, Miami has welcomed me.

Most people associate the Freedom Tower with refuge and welcome, stemming from the many Cubans who were processed there when the federal government used the building as an entry point for immigrants. I now work in the Freedom Tower for the Miami Book Fair, where I write the newsletter. I’m greeted at the elevator by a stone carving of a printing press from 1925, when the building was the headquarters of the Miami News. Periodically, the newsletter runs a column called “Freedom Tower Dispatches.” Recently, I found myself exploring the view from above:

Freedom Tower Dispatch: Sept 1, 7:23 p.m., 91°F, (RealFeel 102°F): Out of Many, One

2:39 p.m.: Through an east-facing window of the Freedom Tower, my co-worker Gervacio sees a man facedown across the street. Ads for shows and liquor cycle blindly on the giant LED screen attached to the AmericanAirlines Arena. We are seven floors above him, four lanes of city traffic away, watching from our air-conditioned office, while people pass by. He’s not moving; we’re concerned he might be dead. No one stops.

Something is wrong.

Gervacio, our student assistant Yoshi, and I, grab water and cellphones, and head down and across. He’s alive, but his breathing is shallow, his eyes are wide open, glazed, and unfocused. He’s unresponsive to four different languages.

As I write this, hours later, the air is cooled by thunderheads and the setting sun. While the three of us stood over the man, it felt as though we’d been trapped in a broiling oven along with a pot of evaporating water.

We called 911.


The area around the Freedom Tower where the author and her colleague found a man lying unresponsively on the sidewalk.

Before I moved to Miami, I worked with people with seizure disorders. I have a visceral reaction when I’m close to people in seizures. This man was having an absence seizure, which doesn’t manifest with convulsion. He didn’t need to be repositioned. His airway was clear. I’ve seen people in convulsive seizures, and feel the same distance, an electric aura, something kinetic thrown from the body, the outwardly spiraling moan of a brain with circuitry gone haywire.

It took us about four minutes to get from the seventh floor to where the man lay prone on the sidewalk and in that time, no one assisted him. Once we began to examine him closely, he became an item of interest, and a small crowd gathered. Someone looked at the man’s watch to check the brand to determine if he had financial status. I’m not sure why, but my thoughts wandered to what Lorca wrote about the death of a matador, something about arsenic bells and smoke. In that instant, I felt a great loss.

After a few minutes, an ambulance arrived. The man was coming out of his haze. One of the paramedics pulled a bottle of medication from the man’s pocket before they lifted him to the gurney, and said he’d be better in no time.

This reminds me how dangerous it is to be shepherded through the corral of our “urgent” agendas. How much is rendered invisible under the cool shade of our haste? Unless someone steps forward to look closely, it becomes just a paseo as always — nothing to see there — nothing lying fragile and frozen on the sidewalk. In the godawful heat of Sept. 1 at 2:39 p.m. in Miami, it can feel bone-chillingly frigid.

When I asked Gervacio what drew him to the window, he said he liked to look at the ocean. He’d like to sail to the Bahamas in the spring.

It’s such a beautiful view from above. Sometimes, when the office is empty, and I need to clear my head to write, I go to the window and look out over the cruise ships to the white buildings on Miami Beach across the bay, and simply breathe for a minute. I am thankful I work with such a sharp-eyed man as Gervacio, who can see past the glamorous view of Miami, and notice one drop, spilled from an ocean, in danger of evaporating in the afternoon heat.

Jan Becker earned an MFA in creative writing from Florida International University, and teaches creative writing with Reading Queer and other community organizations. She is winner of the 2015 AWP Intro Journals Prize in Nonfiction. Her first book, “The Sunshine Chronicles,: was published in 2016 by Jitney Books, a local Miami micro-press, and is available where most books are sold.