We Are Here For Andrea

A motley collection of items have wound up on the bulletin board in the past year. There was a list of phone numbers for one kid's college, and now there is a list of phone numbers for another's. There are slips of paper with quotes from Margaret Mead and Hugo Black. There is the requisite fortune-cookie fortune: your words will have a hypnotic effect on others. There's a picture of the three kids together at Christmas and a postcard of a bulldog and an invitation to a book party I already attended and the instructions to the automatic outdoor light on the terrace and some business cards of people I will probably never call.

And then there's Andrea Haberman. When I was a kid the nuns used to give us holy cards for special accomplishments, Saint Therese with her beauty-queen bunch of roses, Saint Andrew with his X-shaped cross. Andrea Haberman is my holy card now. Her face stares out into my office every day, a small laminated photograph that looks as if it was taken in a park, with sunshine gilding one edge of her long hair. She's smiling a little fixedly, the way most of us do in pictures unless we're taken by surprise. Above her face are the numbers 9-11-2001. Her father gave me two of these last year on the first anniversary of her death. One is in my wallet and one is on the bulletin board. I add things to the board all the time, but I never cover Andrea's face.

I don't really know much about her except what her father told me on very short acquaintance. She was 25, working at the Chicago office of Carr Futures, came to New York on her first business trip and was on the 92d floor of the North Tower when it was hit. She was from Wisconsin. She was engaged.

But that's more than the hundreds of people who tried to rescue her knew. That's more than the thousands of people who tried to find her body knew. That's more than the millions of people who wept for her and all the others knew.

The morning that Andrea Haberman died is enshrined now in public memory as the last innocent morning in American life, before its people knew how much they were hated in the world, knew that home turf was no advantage, knew that the most invincible symbols of greatness were so vulnerable that they could be laid low in less time than it takes to read a newspaper.

Everyone believed at the time that we would never forget that lesson. Sometimes it seems it has already been forgotten.

But there was a more important lesson of that day, and it is infinitely more important that it be remembered. That morning marked the triumph of our best selves: the impatient martyrs of the fire companies who hurried up the stairs, the grimy angels with blowtorches who cleared away the steel, the heavenly chorus of people whose hearts seemed to lift from their bodies to touch the suffering of others. People fell and people rose, and the last is the lesson.

The president proclaimed this second anniversary Patriot Day. That isn't the point. This is not a story about America vanquishing its enemies; sadly, the contrary was the case. But it is about good wrestling with evil and refusing to cede the field. It is a story of love and memory, of a man who hands you a photograph of his daughter and so hands you an opportunity, every day, to remember what matters just by looking up a little.

September 11 should be formally made a day of nationwide remembrance by Congress. But it should become a day unlike any other so recognized, not a holiday but a holy day. Not an excuse for white sales or four-day weekends but a day of national service in the spirit of the spirit that animated so many after this monumental national tragedy. It could be a day on which millions of Americans give blood, or deliver canned goods to soup kitchens, or bring new books to schools and libraries. It could be a day of service on which every American asks and answers the question that united so many on that first September 11: how can I help?

There has been a lot of talk about moving on, now that two years have passed. That talk is tragic. It is time for the United States to grow up and learn that history is not served by turning your back on it, that there are some things that cannot be smoothed over. Nor need they be. It is not an either/or, memory and solace.

Andrea Haberman is wearing her engagement ring in the picture, I think. Maybe she had just gotten it, and was still in that stage when you unconsciously gesture with your left hand because you feel as if it's glowing. She is alive in the picture. We are here for Andrea Haberman, it says at the top of my holy card, and it is like a haiku or a prayer. That's it, you see--that's what was so extraordinary about that day. You didn't know her, and neither did I, but in our own way we were there that day, with a compassionate yearning. If emotion could transmit electrical impulses, all of us together would have lit up the United States like a great lighthouse for the rest of the world, like everything we wish we could be. We must preserve that somehow. We cannot let it fade.