The fifteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 is approaching. Is it possible to remember such a terrible event in a manner that loves, honors, and respects but doesn't produce health damaging stress responses?
I have lived about 3000 miles away from ground zero for almost three decades, but as a native New Yorker I have a very special memory of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. On the 4th of July, 1976, the 200th birthday of our nation, I spent the day on the 97th floor of one of those buildings. Squeezed into the narrow space of those windows, I pressed my face against the glass to look down at the people celebrating on the ground so far below and out to the tall ships sailing into New York harbor. My body responds very differently to the memory of that celebration with family 40 years ago than to memories of the shock and horror of the events I witnessed on live TV 15 years ago. Memories of trauma can trigger stress responses in our bodies - elevating heart rate and blood pressure, increasing blood glucose levels, suppressing immune function, etc - that can harm our health. On this anniversary of the 2001 September 11 attacks, I am challenging myself to remember in a healing and healthy way.
Florence Jones was working on the 77th floor of the South Tower and survived while many of her co-workers did not. When asked how she will observe the anniversary she reports that she will be doing something fun with family. She reports that she has learned to find something positive (to do) for that day and to make time for the things that make her feel good. Following her lead, we can choose happy, fun and wellness generating activities as we observe September 11th. The way to defeat terrorism is to not let it cause you to live in terror: to not allow those with a hatred of the West change how we live our lives. We triumph by embracing and celebrating what we treasure and love.
What have I discovered about planning a healing and healthy observance of that tragic day?
Remember those who were lost on that day, those who still suffer from the long term effects of trauma or illness, and the heroism witnessed on that day and its aftermath but let your remembrance be filled with the emotions of love, peace and gratitude. When you allow fear, anger, and desires for retribution take root it does not harm your enemies - but it does harm you. Take time to express your gratitude to those in your community - fire, police, EMS, military and other public servants - as a means of honoring those who served on that day 15 years ago.
Tune in to how your body responds to scenes of tragedy and violence and consider avoiding images of that day. Be aware of the emotional content of the media you allow into your life and chose to not allow your feelings to be manipulated. Draw strength and serenity from images of what you treasure most - family, community, freedom, the natural beauty of our country, whatever speaks most to you.
There are opportunities in all communities to engage in meaningful and healing service. We can use our gifts to serve the needs of our community as an act of remembrance and in honor of those whose gifts were taken on that day.
Love is the answer. Love for others, love for your community and country, and most importantly, love for yourself. Make and extra effort to share love and be love on September 11th.