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September 17, 2001
DolorLast Tuesday morning at about 7 a.m., the phone on my nightstand rang. Normally, this isn't a big deal. It's usually someone from the east coast who's either forgotten about the time difference, or who's decided that it's time for me to get up and help them out with something.
But on this morning, the voice was a very familiar one, and that in and of itself was a little disconcerting. The voice on the line was my best friend and best man, Joel Zuhars, telling me I'd better get up and turn on CNN. Joel is not what you'd call an early riser, and he's a very stoic guy. Nothing rattles him, and yet, there was a bit of a crack in his voice, and a tone that told me that I'd better take his advice.
I got up, threw on some sweat pants, and headed out to the front room. It took me a minute to find the remote control, as my dogs have a tendency to create huge gaps between the pillows on the couch. I hit the TV button, then power, then with two quick hits of select, CNN was on the tube. My dogs were frantically wagging their tails next to me, demanding attention and breakfast, I could hear my wife asking "What's goin' on?," and the screen was filled with smoke. There's dust and debris all over creation, and the New York skyline looks askew--there's only one tower where there should be two, I think. It's hard to see through the dust, but that's what it looks like. The sound is intermittent, and what little I can make out is about the Pentagon, but there are no pictures of that on the screen.
A few minutes later, my wife is actually slack-jawed on the couch, disbelief and pain etched on her face. The dogs waggle around both of us, clearly aware that something's bothering or scaring us. I literally don't believe this is happening--it has to be a dream of some sort. I have to be remembering some plotless summer blockbuster or something.
Then, the unthinkable. There's definitely only one tower standing, and now it's vanishing, from the top down. It looks like the footage from a building demolition. It's all surreal. But Mother of God, it's not empty. It's not empty. My wife actually gasps for air and involuntarily bangs the floor a couple of times with her feet, and the dogs bound around her, curious about her behavior. It's not empty.
It's not empty.
There's only dust now. I don't know how long I stared at the television, frantically flipping anywhere and everywhere. Fifty thousand people worked in the towers, including people with whom I went to college. And the towers, both of them, are simply gone.
In the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, initial death toll estimates were in the thousands, primarily because of the collapse of the Cypress Freeway. We were ecstatic when the number of casualties came in at "only" 66 moms, dads, wives, husbands, sons, and daughters that were suddenly gone from thousands of lives. What number will make us ecstatic this time? "Only" 5,000? 10,000?
We lost about 60,000 Americans during all the years of the Vietnam Conflict, almost all of them military personnel fighting--some by choice, some by draft--in our names. Our culture and society were profoundly affected. The face of commerce, politics, and social interaction changed drastically. What will come of this horrible day? Our society had a hard enough time dealing with the loss of our sons and daughters abroad over a period of years. This quickling strike will change the U.S. and the world forever, and in ways that we can't even begin to guess at for years to come.
I have to think of the larger impact of this despicable and indefensible act. The enormity of the personal loss simply overwhelms me when I begin to think of it, and I well up with tears and paralysis. Every individual victim of this Capital Act of War is loved by family and friends. Imagine your wife, daughter, best friend, husband, or son not ever gracing your sight again. No chance to say goodbye. No final opportunity to say, "I love you." The emptiness in the house upon waking each and every morning. The complete absence of slightly off-key humming in the bathroom while the shower is running. The little things that appear after someone's been ripped from you--the new, palpable silences, the empty spaces at the table--they are brutally relentless, and do cumulative damage to the soul.
The attack on September 11th was not just the government-sponsored murder of thousands of people, but a sustained, ruthless attack on the psyche of hundreds of thousands of friends and family, as well as on the collective will of an entire nation, and, in fact, on the entire peace-loving world.
I don't know what comes next. I fear the worst; there is no option for the United States that will bring things back to the way they were before September 11th. I feel an anger in my soul that drives me to rage, and I know I'm not the only one. These kinds of emotions don't abate when many people share them--they amplify and intensify. I will not be satisfied with merely bringing one person or group to trial for this horrific act, and I know many others share that view.
The only thing I really know for sure is that my heart goes out to all the victims, and I wish I could do more to help. The blood banks here are telling people to stay home now and to come back next week. My financial contributions to the Red Cross and the 911 Worker Fund seem woefully inadequate. No one can bring back those who were lost, nor completely heal the myriad wounds borne by the survivors.
I attended my local woodworkers' meeting last night, in large part because I wanted to get outside, see unusual faces, and, hackneyed as it sounds, start the healing process. It turns out I wasn't ready, the same as many others. It was a quiet bunch of people, most of them much older than myself, and most everyone sharing an expression of profound, serious sadness or willful detachment. And we're 3,000 miles from the front lines of this war.
I spoke with one gentleman who served in World War II, and conversation eventually turned away from spalted maple and to the attacks on the east coast. I brought up the comparison to Pearl Harbor, and he steadfastly disagreed with me. "This was much worse. The kids in Pearl Harbor were military, and as bad and sneaky as it was, there is a risk when you're in the military. The kids in those buildings yesterday were just going to work."
I hope this attack doesn't accomplish its goals. There's going to be a lot of aftermath to this that goes beyond the indescribable suffering of the victims' friends and families. Financial losses could reach 12 figures. Our economy, already reeling under a profit crunch, could spin in for a prolonged recession or worse. Air travel will take much more time and effort than before, due to new security measures.
I do think that this attack will unite the citizens of the U.S. much the way the attack on Pearl Harbor did, which is a terrifying thought for those out there who wish us ill. The divisions in this country across political and philosophical lines are deep, but this call to action will all but make those divisions disappear as we become one very pissed off united force against a common foe. I hope we don't go over the line to violent, unthinking jingoism; we need to remember that we are, at our core, a good and generous people, and that's worth holding onto. The people who died on September 11th hopefully gave their lives to bring out the best in all Americans.
We now pay our respects to those victims, repair the physical and psychological damage, and make certain that those responsible for this act of war pay the dearest price for their transgression against humanity. We undertake these tasks while maintaining our dignity, humanity, respect for the power and rights of the individual, and our love of sweet freedom. Let no enemy make the mistake of believing that we will cease moving forward as a nation because of this craven attack. We will rebuild our lives and our beloved cities to honor those who have fallen.
No action by any force of darkness can be allowed to stand.
Gary Huckabay is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by clicking here.