COUNSELING & PSYCHOTHERAPY

Remembering 9/11 – Among the Unaware

It is 9/11/2019 and I am in my psychotherapy office listening to Debussy, “Suite Bergamasque, L.75: III. Clair De Lune” performed by François-Joël Thiollier. It’s a somber piece. A favorite of mine. It’s 8:40 am. 3 minutes ago on 9/11/2001, Boston’s air traffic control center alerts the Air Force’s Northeast Air Defense Sector of Mohamed Atta’s message, “We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you will be okay.” American Airlines Flight 11, United Airlines Flight 175, and American Airlines Flight 77 are all airborne. At 8:42 United Airlines Flight 93 takes off and is airborne. At 8:46 am Flight 11 crashes into floors 93-99 of the North Tower of the World Trade Center and responders mobilize. The horrific day soldiers on and those of us that can have a story, have a story. The rest is history. You know your 9/11 story. I know mine. 

At the World Trade Center, 2,753 people were killed. 184 perished at The Pentagon. 40 were killed in a Pennsylvania field. 18 years later first responders and heroic citizens are still dealing with the physical and mental effects of exposure to ground zero. Hundreds have died from illnesses related to the attacks on 9/11/2001. My first child of four was born in 2000. For a year she lived in a world without 9/11 and I’m thankful for that. Today, the first children born right after 9/11/2001 are becoming adults. We now have adults in this world who were born after this cataclysmic event. When it comes to 9/11/2001 it feels palpable that we are now among the unaware. 

My experience with 9/11/2019… It’s been a mixed bag. It’s 11:50 pm and I am now in my living room. On 9/11/2001, 3 hours and 50 minutes ago President George W. Bush addressed the nation from the White House. It was a very long, horrible, disturbing, and unsettling day. Today? What kind of day was it? Well, I’m not so sure. 

Three themes pollute the air on any given 9/11 anniversary. Death, remembrance, and personal story. Death, oh how we are afraid of dying. Often when I discuss the theme of death with my psychotherapy clients I find that it’s not death itself that is feared, rather it’s “Death’s Unknown.” That wretched terror and fear of the great nothing that lies beyond the end of you. The anxiety of getting your existential worldview wrong, as most have an architecture of death that brings comfort to the living. The horrible thought that you haven’t earned the gold at the end of your religious rainbow. The generalized trembling of the actual death event. How will I actually die? Here is where my train derails. I am terrified of the death moment. In fact, it presents in my life as a bit of Thanatophobia, the fear of dying. Sigmund Freud hypothesized that those that fear death are simply disguising a deeper concern. He stated “that which one does fear cannot be death itself, because one has never died.” For me, it’s the moment. I fear I might be driving and have kids in the car. I fear I might be in public. Get it? I am strictly not an organ donor because I wish for physical peace for my body after my soul departs. I’ve done enough good while living. If you read deeper and darker personal accounts of people that experienced 9/11 first hand, you will read details so unexpected and horrific, it will literally rewire your brain. It’s not what you would call PBS Documentary material. Thousands of people slow walked to their death or were incinerated in the presence of many that lived. Death, death, death. So as a nation 9/11 forces us to contemplate death and suffering and we all kind of do it our own way. For me, I am haunted by the falling woman who held her skirt down as she jumped head first to her less torturous death. “She had a business suit on, her hair was all askew…This woman stood there for what seemed like minutes, then she held down her skirt and then stepped off the ledge… I thought, how human, how modest, to hold down her skirt before she jumped… I couldn’t look anymore.” – James Gilroy, Lower Manhattan Resident

9/11 remembrance has become a tricky thing. Before I went to bed on 9/10/2019 I checked facebook like a complete idiot. As a mid-life Gen X’er, I know better. Already there were posts. Posts about the victims going to bed doing the last beautiful things they would ever do, and the meme demanding that I “think about that for a minute.” Posts telling me to “never forget.” I was over it already, over it. Then I caught a post from someone my age. A ridiculous post about conspiracy theories, inside jobs, and cover-ups. Another post telling me what to do, “just think about that for a minute.” I was boiling over. My 9/11 Remembrance routine has been the same for a very long time. On 9/12/2001, I was 25. I drove around with a 35 millimeter camera and I took black and white photos of anything that caught my eye regarding what just happened. A makeshift sign in a store window that simply said “pray.” A soap bar etched “remember” on the rear window of a 1998 Chevy Cavalier. The face of an old man wishing he’d passed away the day before yesterday. I put those photos in an album. I look at them to this day. I then listen to The Howard Stern Show re-broadcast of their live on air programming of that day. I was listening on 9/11, just like usual. I then look through all the names of the dead. Mostly my generation died that day and mostly my generation saved lives that day. It just is what it is. 

I avoided social media today for the most part. There was no way I was going to be able to negotiate that well. I just get so disappointed with people. Seriously, what has happened? My generation quickly fell in love with facebook because when we graduated high school in the late 80’s and early 90’s, you lost touch with everybody. The best you could do is remember someone’s home phone number or be lucky enough to have it etched in your senior yearbook. So the idea that we could gradually “find each other” was frankly beautiful. Then as evil and pathology would have it, facebook went from “hey what are you up to?” to “hey you, here’s what I’m up to.” Gross, and we’re all sort of doing it. So, when I stumbled onto the first post I saw of someone telling their 9/11 story, about how they “were in Arizona working in a grocery store when they heard the news,” I was done. I don’t want to hear your story and I’m not going to tell you mine. There’s something different about this 18thanniversary of 9/11 and I’m pretty sure it’s me. 

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