Forever changed by enormityIt is difficult, especially for Midwesterners, to digest the enormity of 9/11.
By: By Mike Nichols, Superior Telegram
It is difficult, especially for Midwesterners, to digest the enormity of 9/11.
Exactly 2,975 victims died in the World Trade Center Towers, in the Pentagon and on the plane that terrorists flew into a field in western Pennsylvania that morning. Of those, 2,751 were killed at ground zero.
It was in the One Liberty Plaza building close to ground zero, sitting in the “Family Room” set aside for the families of victims, that Gordy Haberman told me last summer he most felt the sheer magnitude of the attacks. Almost every inch of every wall and table and window in the room is covered with pictures of victims, smiling, laughing, living — and now gone.
It is there, Gordy told me sitting on a couch in the middle of the room in New York that “the enormity closes in.”
“Everyone a story,” said Gordy. “Everyone, a life.”
It is a cliché to say you feel privileged. I will say it anyway. I feel privileged to have learned about just one of those lives, the one lived so well and for such a short time by Gordy’s daughter, Andrea.
Andrea, I learned while working on a book about the aftermath of 9/11, was young and innocent and hard-working.
A St. Norbert graduate who grew up just outside West Bend, she was in love, engaged to be married. She had a great job at a futures brokerage in Chicago. She was on her first business trip ever when she walked into the north tower at 8 a.m. the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and made her way to the 92nd floor — a spot immediately below where the first plane flew into the tower 46 minutes later.
When Gordy and the rest of the Haberman family and her fiancé arrived in New York several days after that, the fires were still burning, an enormous smoke plume still rising up and drifting over the rubble. It was apocalyptic — and so much worse than what Midwesterners had seen on TV. Oh my God, thought Gordy. How can this be? How could this happen?
As they drove into the city for the first time, everything smelled like burnt plastic and iron and soot and metal. It was a dirty smell, and thick like tar, and part of it was the stench of something rotting. The smoke wasn’t just wafting up over Manhattan. It was everywhere, fuming up and out of the sewers. It was as if the smoke and ash of some netherworld had made its way upward and was infusing everything above that had once been good.
Gordy, who still lives outside West Bend with his wife, Kathy, felt they had all of a sudden been transported into another realm. It was sickening and incomprehensible, the devastation, the vastness.
It would take years to even try to understand. The more you examine the reverberations of 9/11, the more you realize they are endless.
We all know the impact that 9/11 had on our politics and our culture, on our military. In addition to nearly 3,000 victims of 9/11, we have lost over 6,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It has changed much about how we feel and how we think.
But for the Habermans, in the beginning, their whole world — indeed the whole atrocity of Sept. 11 — was reduced to just one thing.
As Gordy would later put it, “the immensity of this atrocity was reduced in our minds to fear and anguish for Andrea.”
That anguish, I can tell you, was eventually supplemented by faith and even optimism — but never closure. No matter how many anniversaries pass, what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, was too enormous, our losses too profound, for there to ever be closure, especially for those closest to it.
Mike Nichols is a syndicated columnist who spent 18 years writing about Wisconsin for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He is now a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. This column represents only his personal opinion. Contact him at MRNichols@wi.rr.com.