Here we are on Sept. 11, a year later. This column will be appearing just a bit before the hour that the first plane hit the World Trade Center and the hellfire and chaos began.
It was a day no one old enough to comprehend the meaning of mind-numbing horror, senseless loss of life or the excruciating wail of sorrow and grief will ever forget. It was one of the most significant days in the history of our country and in our emotional lives.
It became clear a year ago on this day that the veil of personal and national security that we believed insulated us from significant foreign terrorist attack had been ripped away. We were not only vulnerable; we could be hit right in the jugular -- not by invading forces, but by terrorists living among us.
Pushed to the Brink
A year ago on this day -- and the days, weeks and months that followed -- many Americans were pushed to their emotional core, to the brink of what they could endure in the way of fear, suspicion, sorrow, compassion, confusion, anger and hatred.
During those first few months, so much of life felt crazy, surreal and out of control. We had anthrax scares that could close down a federal office building for months and evacuate children from schools; armed National Guards standing around at major airports; crazed copycats brandishing weapons on airplanes; the ghoulish categorizing of body parts and the endless searching for the dead beneath the rubble; nightmares, panic attacks and massive grief.
But there was another side, too. The emergency response to the attacks elicited some of the most compassionate, altruistic and heroic behavior I can ever remember witnessing. So many gave of themselves bravely and selflessly to help those in physical and emotional pain. It was the best of the human spirit rising to the need.
As part of the continued healing process for the victims' families and for the country, it is essential that we mark this occasion with planned memorials around the country and in the media.
For the majority of us who do not live or work in New York City or Washington, D.C., it is natural after a year's passage for the impact of what happened to diminish. The mind wants to move on, to forget the terror and suffering, especially if there is little or no immediate reminder in one's daily life.
It is, psychologists would say, avoidance in the service of reconstructing the artificially secure and routine. It is the same thing we do with so many of the other mind-numbing, horrific and uncontrollable events in our lives. If we didn't do this cover-up job, the anxiety and fear would be too much to bear.
A Year Isn't Enough
A year of mourning is traditionally considered a significant milestone. It is enough time for the mind and emotions to fully accept the enormity of an individual death and to have come to grips with a degree of one's pain and loss. Often, it marks a time when one decides to consciously stop mourning and get on with the living of life.
But here we are talking about more than an individual death. We are talking about the scars on the psyche of a country. And a year just isn't enough time for those scars to heal, especially when we haven't yet experienced a real sense of closure.
A Glimpse Through the 'Window': What Impact?
I had just begun writing for this site the week before the attacks. In my hurried
emergency column, published two days after the attacks, I proposed that ...
"... a mental 'window' opens for a period of time that shocks us into an appreciation of our existence in a more poignant way than our everyday awareness allows for. We become more sensitized to the simple beauty of our being alive and the importance of those who matter to us. The window tends not to stay open for too long, as we slowly drift back into our common mentality."
Is that window still open for you, a year later? If so, in what ways are you more gentle with yourself or sensitive to others and your surroundings than before the trauma? How has it changed the way you value your own work projects or the meaning of your life?
Have you made any significant changes in outlook, attitude or behavior as a result of the window opening? Have your interests or priorities changed at all? Did you gain a different perspective on any relationships that led you to make changes in them?
How easy has it been to lapse back into the more limited "small-mind" world in which we are used to functioning -- getting caught in the multiple petty concerns always begging to ensnare us?
If the window closed, do you know when you began to lapse back into your old thinking and being? And what would it take for you to regain the heightened awareness you had when it was open?
A year later marks a time to reflect on how the events of this day and the following weeks and months changed you -- for better, for worse or maybe not much at all.
But whether the window stays open for you now or has shut after only a brief glimpse, the consciousness of America was irrevocably altered that day. For the collective psyche, the window will always be a bit more open than it was pre-Sept. 11, 2001.
Steven J. Hendlin, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Irvine, Calif. He has been in private practice for the last 26 years, investing for the last 20 years, and actively trading online as a position trader and long-term investor since 1996. He is the author of
The Disciplined Online Investor and maintains a site at www.hendlin.net. He is pleased to receive your comments and questions for publication in his public forum columns at
firstname.lastname@example.org , but please remember that he is unable to provide personal counseling or psychotherapy through the mail.
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