Ten years ago, this photo took my breath away. Just like the pictures of the collapsing towers and the fliers with the smiling faces of lost loved ones. What powerful images of despair, suffering and the staggering losses of 9/11. But there were also stories of rescue, heroism and survival.
At dinner the other night, my 5 year old grandson was amazed by his brothers’ conversation about terrorists seizing control of planes and crashing them into the World Trade Center. Being so young, how could they understand the impact? But as adults we know that the world changed dramatically that day.
After the heroic acts of police, firefighters, emergency responders and recovery workers during the disaster, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome became a public health issue. Survivors with PTSD continue to struggle with intrusive thoughts triggered by a plane overhead, the sound of sirens or nightmares. Flashbacks, depression or anxiety continue to haunt them. And others suffer from chronic health problems or respiratory and allergic reactions from exposure to toxic dust.
Partners, parents and children still feel the void and mourn the loss of family members. For many who were lucky enough to survive the tragedy, there often remain feelings of helplessness, sometimes accompanied by shame, guilt, or a sense of responsibility. In fact, the whole world reacted. And each anniversary of 9/11 triggers frightening memories and painful emotions.
How do you move forward without forgetting? It can help to weather tragedy in the midst of family, friends and community. Like in other traumatic situations, support for discussing the events and sharing feelings can relieve pain and suffering. Putting energy into giving back to others who are struggling can be a source of comfort. And pulling together is a classic coping mechanism. The civility, cooperation, support and goodwill in New York were instrumental in healing the national psyche.
While some people remain vulnerable, others are resilient and can regain psychological balance more quickly. They tend to bounce back to the same strengths, anxieties, hopes and bad habits – and are grateful for a return to normalcy.
Some are too young to remember, others can’t forget. Many at yesterday’s ground zero memorial were there to find more closure so maybe they could, at last, enjoy a measure of relief. And all over the country, thousands upon thousands gathered to unveil monuments, pay tribute, pledge allegiance and celebrate resilience. May this strength be an example to all of us.