Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Still Living Victims of 9/11

The cowards who planned and carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks left behind more than just crumbled buildings and dead bodies. They left behind severely wounded people who relive that terror-filled day every day of their lives. As the numerals we use to apply to our annual remembrance of this tragedy reached 7 in 2008, the still living victims fade just a little bit more in our collective consciousness. I'm ashamed to admit that I myself had not thought about them for several years, until the New York Times printed, on September 9, 2008, an article detailing the lives of three of them.

The article, entitled "Maimed on 9/11, Trying to Be Whole Again," had three immediate effects on me. First, I said a silent prayer that all the victims were rendered unconscious immediately prior to the planes impacting the buildings (even though logic, and video evidence, made it quite clear that many suffered horribly, I hoped that God, somehow, removed their suffering); second, I felt a fresh flush of rage against those who, under the guise of religious fervor, carried out such a cold-blooded attack; and third, I vowed to also remember the living victims, and include them in the few prayers that, as an agnostic, I say.

The opening paragraph in the article summarized Lauren Manning's current handshake. "Lauren Manning’s handshake is strong, almost bionic. You might think it was a byproduct of decades of playing tennis and golf. But her grip has been painfully relearned, and bolstered with more titanium pins than she cares to count." This is but one of the painful injuries inflicted upon her when, "On Sept. 11, 2001, Mrs. Manning — newly married, the mother of a 10-month-old boy, at the top of her profession on Wall Street — was met by a fireball as she strode into the lobby of the World Trade Center." She suffered severe burns on over 80% of her body, and is 'lucky' to have survived.

Elaine Duch was a senior administrative assistant in the real estate department at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. She worked on the 88th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower, and is another severe burn victim. "... in her mind’s eye her professional self still haunts the upper reaches of the north tower, where she was standing in a hallway when the flames came; she managed to get down, only to be given last rites as she emerged from the building." What does the memory of receiving last rites, and then surviving, do to a person? "Ms. Duch, 56, has cut herself off from her old friends, partly because, as she put it, “I’m never going to be the Elaine that I used to be.” "Of her current friends, Ms. Duch said, “Well, see, they did not know me before, they only know me as an injured person.” Readers - stop right now and put yourself in her shoes. Imagine if such an extreme event happened to you, and you felt compelled to end all contact with your current friends because you were no longer you. Close your eyes and feel what that would do to you on a daily basis. I suspect that Elaine considered the option of attempting to retain ties with her old friends, but felt that the fear of rejection, pity, or abandonment due to her 'change' was so palpable that she could not bear the burden. Perhaps she loved her friends so much that she didn't want them to suffer either. Oh yes, "She no longer drives because her hands are too weak and she is easily rattled. She avoids zippers, tiny buttons and opening the wax paper in cereal boxes. She suffers through summers and winters because her burned skin does not tolerate heat and cold very well."

Harry Waizer was given a 5% chance of surviving his burn injuries. His story involves a plummeting elevator. "In testimony before the 9/11 Commission on its first day of hearings in 2003, Mr. Waizer recounted how he had been going up to his office on the 104th floor when he felt an explosion and the elevator began to plummet. Burned as he beat out the flames, Mr. Waizer got out on the 78th floor and took the stairs to the ground, seeing looks of horror and sympathy on the faces of those who let him pass." He too is not the same person he had been. "Perhaps the most distinctive relic of his injuries is his whispery, soothing voice, possibly caused by inhaling jet fuel that left him with “a bit of vocal cord paralysis.” click here to read more

This post focused on three specific individuals. But each has spouses and family that must suffer as well. And for what? A twisted political statement written in the blood of innocents? At times like this, I feel less an agnostic, and more a believer... at least in a heaven and hell. A wrong must be balanced by a right, whether that right is defined by a punishment or a redemption. I remember being taught in church that "Revenge is mine, sayeth the Lord." That sentence tempers my desire for revenge... a bit.

Each victim has learned how to cope with their injured bodies and painful memories. The Times article did not indicate that these people had any residual anger or hatred towards anyone. Could you and I be that forgiving? I don't think that I would have the inner strength to let go of my feelings of hate that would dwell within me following such an outrage against my person. What about you?


Wayne in Pa said...

Perhaps the old adage "time heals all wounds" could be looked at as a comfort. I doubt that time would cause you to forget completely, but the distancing of the event with the present does tend to dull the vividness of the experience. The psyche will still retain a portion of the memory no matter what. It is just how we are wired.

Wayne in Pa said...

One must remember that this country is mired down in an overseas conflict of our making due to feelings of revenge and hate. A hate of Osama and his ilk and a feeling of need to destroy the ideaolgy and reek revenge against the forces that bore down on us and our country on 9/11/01. I am not for turning the other cheek and I will not and do not condone the atrocities that were inflicted upon us, but hate and revenge can lead folks to do the wrong things for the right reasons. An eye for an eye mentality can sometimes lead you to losing both your eyes!

thinker said...

I agree that our culture tends to be wired that way. But some individuals in other cultures seem less forgetful or forgiving of perceived wrongs. So we must remain eternally vigilant, without giving in to revenge and hate, but exacting justice, as in our search for bin Laden, by concentrating our efforts where our military intelligence tells us he is most likely hiding.

I do not believe that we went into Iraq because of revenge and hate. When I listened to General Powell present the case for invasion before the United Nations, I trusted that we had justification for action. So maybe it was an honest mistake based solely upon faulty data, rather then, say, a personal vendetta against Hussein by the current President Bush. But mistakes, when realized, must be corrected as quickly as possible.

I particularly liked your comment, "An eye for an eye mentality can sometimes lead you to losing both your eyes!" The interpretation of that 'eye for an eye' biblical phrase that I accept is that the punishment should fit the crime, not be the same as the crime.