HONORING SEPTEMBER 11, 2001: FIFTEEN YEARS LATER
“Life will close over a sorrow like the sea over a dead body, no matter how much love has gone to the bottom.”
The unforgettable imprint of September 11, 2001 has changed each of us. In our collective psyche, too, we measure our lives before and after that day. #September11th
For those of us who are old enough to remember the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, 9/11/01 was a similar event in that it remains stored in lucid detail in the archives of our Unconscious mind.
Where were you?
What were you doing at the time?
What were your first impressions?
Now, looking back 15 years later, how did 9/11 change your life?
What do you remember?
Please take a moment to visit our 9/11 bulletin board at www.mindbodynetwork.com where you can share your thoughts and feelings in words, images, video, and music. It’s important to take the time to honor not only what we remember but what we have learned and who we have become as we journeyed through the sacred wound of 9/11.
Sharon Lash was standing on the 41st floor of 26 Federal Plaza when she felt a jolt. “I heard a ‘boom!’ Then the building swayed,” she recalls. Lash, who is blind, heard someone scream, “It’s going into the Towers!” Then the second plane hit. “Get out of the building!” a man yelled. She and her service dog Haley crammed into an elevator that discharged them on the ground floor. “We were told to go straight to the first floor without stopping at our desks. I wanted to get my Braille machine, my Frank Sinatra CD’s and my sandwich,” she says, remembering what it felt like to be pushed forward into thousands of people heading uptown. “I didn’t know where I was and I was worried about my dog. She refused a drink of water but she just wanted to get home.” The air was filled with burning soot. The blind woman and her dog struggled to keep going. “A lawyer stopped to ask if I needed help. He said he had seen people jumping out of windows.”
What she remembers most about that day is a hollow, crashing sound of the world’s tallest buildings going down. It’s a sound that still echoes in her dreams.
As sighted people, we tend to speak about the images of planes hitting the Towers, fire, people jumping to their deaths, and chaos in the streets as survivors escaped by boat and by foot. We tend not to recall the sounds: shouts, cries, and sirens. And those of us who lived and worked downtown and across the rivers will never forget the smell of charred plastic and human remains which lingered in the air for more than a year.
The Centers for Disease Control WTC Health Program reports that 8,942 members (6,809 responders and 2,133 survivors) are receiving services for mental health issues related to the September 11th attacks. But we can also look at the psychic imprint of 9/11 as a sacred wound.
Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, one of the founders of modern psychology, used the Greek term ketabasis to describe a soul wound that affects and changes us from the inside out. It forces us to grow in knowledge, experience, and compassion. Some say this accelerated growth can ONLY happen after a catastrophic event like September 11th. Over the years, having worked with more than one thousand people affected by these events, I believe that the soul wound gives us five gifts. I call them the “Five Unbearable Gifts” because none of us want them until we absolutely need them. But without them, we will remain stuck in shock, grief, and heart-wrenching pain.
Those five gifts are: humility, patience, empathy, forgiveness, and growth.
As a psychotherapist specializing in helping people with trauma and PTSD issues, the first five years after September 11, 2001 I was privileged to work with several different 9/11 populations. In my office across the street from St. Vincent’s Hospital, I treated hundreds of eyewitnesses who were struggling with flashbacks, nightmares, and hypervigilance. (The most effective modality at the time was Eye Movement Integration ™, a technique similar to EMDR ™ which helps the brain to neutralize painful flashbacks so that events can be recalled without disturbing emotions.) At holistic health fairs at BMCC and YMCA’s around the city, we set up a triage table where I treated as many as 100 people a day with Eye Movement Integration ™.
At the time, I was also writing for the New York Times’ Long Island section. Six months after the event, I reported on how relationships were dramatically affected as we processed what 9/11 meant to us. In 9/11: Balm and Bane of Relationships, (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/02/10/nyregion/9-11-balm-and-bane-of-relationships.html?pagewanted=all)
I interviewed those for whom 9/11 was a catalyst for healing. Maurice Kougell had always dreamed of playing music with his brother Alexander. A professional cellist, Alex was always on the road. Over time, the brothers had become estranged. But 9/11 caused Alexander to stop flying to concerts and when Maurice called after some 20 years, he welcomed the opportunity to start playing chamber music with his brother on Fridays.
Lawyers reported that divorces were up. At the same time, the Vice President of Romance for match.com reported that membership in the New York area jumped 300 percent three weeks after the World Trade Center attacks. She told me that many single people felt that if the world was going to end, they wanted someone sitting on the couch with them as they watched it on TV. Professional organizers also reported a surge in business. People felt that if they were hit by a bus—or something catastrophic—they didn’t want a loved one to have to clean up their messes. A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken around that time showed that 55 percent of those surveyed believe that the events of Sept. 11 changed their lives in a lasting way, and 38 percent said the change was for the better.
Another New York Times assignment made me aware of the special needs of teenagers whose fathers were killed that day. For 9/11 Families, Shoulders To Cry On (http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/31/nyregion/for-9-11-families-shoulders-to-cry-on.html), a story about a counseling center on Long Island that was dedicated to the needs of family members who had lost someone in the Towers. Dr. Tom Demaria, director of the WTC Family Center, hired me to direct a program for teens and young adults with parent loss. In this short documentary narrated by Dan Rather (and which I was privileged to script) you can see those five unbearable gifts in action:
After The Fall: The Rise of a 9/11 Community Center Part Two
“Dear God, Please give the people who hurt us a heart.”
Those words, from a 9 year old girl whose fireman dad was killed trying to rescue people in the first Tower, letter led to a children’s prayer wall near the entrance of the WTC Family center. It never failed to affect me when I arrived at work each morning. As a single mom with a teenage daughter, I knew that reaching teenagers and young adults would not be easy. In http://www.huffingtonpost.com/laurie-nadel/baseball-hope-and-the-chi_b_953075.html ,published for the 10th anniversary, I reported on my work with teenagers whose fathers were killed in the Towers.
Dr. Demaria told me that three experts in adolescent bereavement had struck out before me. As I recall, he was hopeful but not encouraging about my prospects for success. Unlike adults who had lost a loved one on 9/11, teenagers were not going to sit in a circle and share their feelings with the group. Nor would they be willing to paint, draw, or write letters to God.
No one was more surprised than I to discover that the keys to healing for these 30-plus adolescents and young adults would be found at Yankee and Shea Stadiums. But as I spent three baseball seasons, from 2003 to 2005, with the teens and young adults of 9/11, I began to wonder if there might be something magical in the nature of baseball that was allowing these young people who were emotionally closed off to open up to each other as friends who shared a tragedy.
Whenever we touch base, I like to ask these young men and women whose lives I was privileged to share, what it was about baseball that drew us together and gave them a new sense of hope.
Here are some of their insights. (We picked nine for obvious reasons.)
“Life, like baseball, is an unpredictable game.”
“In the game of life, as in baseball, injuries and hardships are inevitable.”
“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes you get rained out.”
“You have to step up to the plate. Even when you don’t feel like it.”
“Loss doesn’t make you a loser. You can use your losses to get stronger.”
“You need to believe in yourself. Even when others don’t.”
“No matter how good you are, you can’t control everything.”
“Both baseball and life are team sports.”
“The spirit of baseball is a spirit of hope and renewal. There’s always another game. Another season. A new tomorrow.”
A few days ago, I was privileged to spend an afternoon at the beach with a young man who is now the father of a one-year old son. Carrying the toddler on his shoulders as he waded into the sea, I couldn’t help remembering what he told me four years after his dad was killed. His words touch me even more deeply now than they did at the time:
“You showed me that 9/11 was not an end. It’s a beginning.”
As his mom and I watched them playing in the water, a pod of dolphins swam past. I had been hearing about these dolphins for the past decade but never had the good fortune to see them. It was as if the universe had reached out to show us that even though healing from unspeakable grief is a slow process that can take years, we can transcend horror and heartache to become whole.
(Please take a moment to visit our 9/11 bulletin board at www.mindbodynetwork.com where you can share your thoughts and feelings in words, images, video, and music. It’s important to take the time to honor not only what we remember but what we have learned and who we have become as we journeyed through the sacred wound of 9/11.)