Sunday, August 30, 2009
(Left: Cat Right: Mark and his mom)
As the eighth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks approaches, my thoughts keep turning back to those who died.
I didn't know any of them, but I have two close friends who did.
The first is George Lazarus, a pediatrician in Manhattan. On that day he lost his favorite patient, Catherine "Cat" MacRae. She was only 23.
Her father called her "bright and beautiful, gentle and kind, the epitome of all that is good in the world," and that's a pretty fair description.
She would surprise her friends with unexpected gifts and notes to remind them that she loved them. And whenever she was invited to a party, she made sure all her friends got invitations, too.
Cat was sitting at her desk on the 93rd floor of the North Tower, in the direct path of the first hijacked plane. She never had a chance.
My other friend is Alice Hoglan of Los Gatos. She lost her only child that day - her son, Mark Bingham. He was only 31.
Mark was one of the passengers on United Flight 93 who attacked the hijackers and prevented them from crashing the plane into the Capitol – at the cost of their own lives.
That came as no surprise to anyone who knew him. A strapping 220-lb., 6'5" rugby star who led Cal to national titles in 1991 and 1993, he was always quick to jump in and protect the weak from bullies.
Once, when he and some friends were accosted by an armed robber in San Francisco, Mark tackled the guy, took his gun away and held him until the police arrived.
Alice had a chance to say goodbye before he died. He called her from the plane and said, "I want you to know that I love you."
They talked for a while. Then she heard Todd Beamer, who was sitting next to Mark, say, "OK, let's roll." Then the line went dead.
Cat and Mark were our best and brightest. Who knows what wonderful things they would have gone on to accomplish if they hadn't been cheated so brutally out of their future?
In the days following 9/11 it seemed that we might be able to salvage some good out of this evil by transforming our country into one that was worthy of their sacrifice.
And yet, if I could talk to them today, I would have to confess that we have failed.
The "Spirit of 9/11" lasted about five minutes. Then it was back to business as usual - tearing the country apart for partisan advantage.
We are turning into two Americas. One watches Fox News and thinks Obama is an enemy alien who wants to kill our grandparents. The other watches MSNBC and thinks the Republicans are cynically exploiting the darker aspects of human nature.
Neither side remembers the advice Ted Kennedy gave his son: "Teddy, Republicans love this country just as much as I do."
This is a very dangerous road we're going down. Sometimes, in my gloomier moments, I fear we've already passed the point of no return.
But, as with global warming, we have no choice but to act as if there's still time to step back from the abyss. But we'd better get going before it really is too late.
Otherwise, Cat and Mark will have died in vain.