Today marks an anniversary which I do not like, yet feel compelled to post on, since it is the “thing” that changed everything I knew up until the day that it happened. It is the one event in my privileged lifetime that reminded me of how fragile our sense of wellbeing, how frail our very life is and how karma and history are intertwined in the fabric of human existence. The one event that forever changed my adult life. Yes, it is September 11 once again, and twelve years later, I wonder whether our collective memory is as sharp as it was on that day, if we have managed not to forget the terrible events of that day, our worst and our finest hour.
On 9/11 everything changed in New York City, and D.C., and Pennsylvania. And elsewhere too, where television images and radio announcements carried the terrible events of that day all around the world. It was the day that everyone became an American or stood by America as it bled. Twelve years later, as I sit contemplating the water, deep blue and rippled with wavelets, and the sunny, clear skies, it seems as if this never happened. Well, almost. The truth is that the more beautiful the day is, on September 11th, the more the shadow of the thing comes alive for me.
It is the nature of our psyche to deal with trauma and its aftermath by dulling out the pain, exiling it and memory if necessary – so that we can recoup and continue. So that we can survive and live on. The very definition of trauma involves a reaction to an event that is unexpected and unthought, an event that comes upon us out of nowhere and deeply confounds us because we have no way of explaining it and making sense of it. It does not compute with our lived experience to date. We are always unprepared for trauma, it is what makes traumatic experience traumatic. So, it is the beautiful days of September that bring on the memory of 9/11, the bluer the sky the crisper the air the clearer the memory, much the way a shadow fills its outlines on a sunny day. The sunnier the day the clearer the shadow.
The shadow of the thing always remains, because that is the nature of human experience and trauma. We internalize events and experiences (traumatic one’s in particular) so that we can attempt to sort them through, replay them in our minds with a different ending, perhaps even attempt to make them go away forever. We work things out internally, or we try to anyway. Often, it is helpful to attempt to work things out in relationship to someone or a number of others – to enlist another in the validation of our experience, as a witness and other to reality test our experience, help put words to it, put us in touch with our emotions and feelings and link them to our thoughts. Much of the time we can do this on our own, but trauma often requires the help of others who help to ease the isolation honor the emotions and feelings involved and help to speak the truth of what has happened.
On September 11 there is a memorial service in New York City, where the names of those who died and were identified are read out loud, in front of their loved ones and in front of television cameras bring it to the world. The ghosts of the towers have been drawing our attention to their white light against the Manhattan night sky for over a week now, gentle reminders of what was and its loss. It is September 11th again, the day that changed everything for many.
First published on Dr. Ceccoli’s blog, Out of My Mind, on September 10, 2013.