In recent days, I had the occasion to return to Shanksville, Pennsylvania, to attend a first responders meeting with representatives from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Initially, I was quite apprehensive about doing so. For more than a week, I changed my mind several times and even sought the counsel of family members, friends and a trusted doctor. With each hedge of a decision, I found myself increasingly more divided. In moments of optimism, I felt fearless in my need to resolve the lingering issues still trapped within. On a pessimistic day, I retreated to the safety of isolation. There among my thoughts, I felt secure -- a hermit hibernating in her proverbial cave. However, with each hesitating thought, came the whispers of my inner voice that beckoned me to find the courage to participate in the gathering. If I could convince myself to do so, perhaps some lingering questions would be answered and residual emotions released.
On the morning of the forum, I googled the directions and set off to the great unknown. Driving the first leg of my journey, I felt the mounting anxiety stir. By the time I traveled off the main highway onto the country roads, the panic became almost immobilizing. Visions from the past flickered across the pathway of my mind. Initially, I saw the faint image of a Pennsylvania State Police vehicle and then a row of buses making their way behind the marked patrol car. Within seconds, my memory recalled the uniformed troopers lined along the road, standing at point. They did so as a means of honoring those who perished aboard Flight 93 and those now returning to pay respect to their loved ones.
As past memories merged with the present moments, I realized I had once again regressed to the post-9/11 days. The emotions so long suppressed rose from the depths of my soul and caused me to pull off the road. Although the scenery looked unfamiliar, it simultaneously seemed eerily known to me. During those few minutes of confusion, I was unaware of my surroundings. Then I became cognizant that the terrain I drove upon was traveled almost 12 years prior, to help escort surviving family members to the boundaries of the Flight 93 crash site. There among the rolling hills, the pastures and quaint farms, a procession of vehicles had inched toward the travesty of another type of field. In this flashback, all of my senses were heightened amid an outpouring of emotion. When finally I was able to regain my composure, I felt the stress begin to ease. And soon felt as if a tremendous burden had been lifted from my being.
In traveling the route of long ago, the journey had provided some benefit. What I realized in that quintessential moment is that, on 9/11 and in the time afterward, I had been required to be stoic. I feigned strength in order to perform my duties and fulfill my responsibilities to those most in need. Although I had put on a convincing facade, deep inside of me dwelled the heartbroken woman in need of expressing her sorrow. The retracing of past images had allowed for my psyche to release the sentiment once frozen in time. When I returned home later that day, my weary mind gave in to the sadness and I wept over the recollections locked inside. In the days following my revelation, I allowed myself to grieve and forgive. By doing so, the lasting impressions that once haunted me lost their hold on my heart, my mind and my soul.
For more by Lillie Leonardi, click here.
For more on PTSD, click here.
We’re basically your best friend… with better taste. Learn more