I imagine many of us remember where we were as the news of the 9/11 tragedies unfolded, the feelings of confusion and the dawning of awareness of what was actually happening. Confusion, yes, that is one feeling that I remember. And fear - I didn't like being at work, away from my family. Tony was at work, Julie at high school, and Michael several hours away at college. My extended family was scattered across the country.
9/11 occurred during my second week as a faculty member at Chatham University. Before joining Chatham, I had worked for many years in my psychology practice located less than two miles from our home and the children's schools. Even though Julie was in high school by that time, it was a leap, emotionally, for me to move into a new job across town (and, as only Pittsburghers will understand, through a few tunnels and over a few bridges). I always wanted to be within short minutes of the children. Just in case.
My first instinct after hearing the news was to get into my car and drive home to get Julie, to be with her. Well. Not so fast. Chatham had many international students, several from various Arab nations, and we psychology faculty were needed on campus as supports for them. Tony was also called into service because of his work with people experiencing trauma. So I did what we often did in our neighborhood - I reached out to my good friend Marlene, whose kids I drove to school each day along with Julie, and asked for help. And of course she was there. But I desperately wanted to be there, and am still sad today that I was not.
So many things happened so quickly - and later. Seismic changes in the end, ripple effects of this tragedy. I could write a book, as I am sure we all could, about how we were affected in small and large ways by 9/11.
9/11 and the events that followed led me to think about many big subjects that were often on the edges of my mind. Faith, religion, and spirituality. Politics and patriotism (and the many nuances of "patriotism"). The true everlasting bottom-line most important things in life - and the need to nurture and protect these. Compassion for and curiosity about those that are different from me. The ethics and morality of war - how DO we respond to violence? Who are we called to be, as citizens of the globe? I can't say that I have answers for anyone else about these topics, but I have come to peace in my own heart about where I stand. And I grew up - these notions no longer linger on the periphery of my life. They are front and center, day in and day out.
This event led to tension about religion within my extended family - fear can erupt in odd and unexpected ways. Many years later, this conflict is well-resolved, and deeper affection and understanding sit in its place.
I am crying as I write this, viscerally remembering so much. Our family is in a very different place now, ten years later - different, but good places. A marriage ended, and new lives began. A daughter became lost, and has now found herself. A son is married - I have a beautiful new daughter and her amazing family added to my long list of loved ones. Michael and Julie have grown up into loving and kind adults. I moved into the city, across rivers and bridges. My work, new at the time, has become more familiar, and also deeper and more complicated and very satisfying.
There is a phrase that I have heard - maybe a bit clinical-sounding, but meaningful nevertheless. The phrase is "post-traumatic growth." It refers to those miracles of wisdom, humility, compassion, courage, and acceptance that can arise from the ashes of terrible loss. My dream is that we have all experienced some measure of this growth during the last ten years, and that what we have learned will guide us into a more peaceful and loving future together - as individuals and families, communities and nations.
I send you love and peace today.