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Memories of September 11, 2001

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MEMORIES OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001

If you were alive and old enough to comprehend what was going on, you have your memories. Here are mine:

Hearing about the first plane strike on NPR as I got ready to leave for my office on Capitol Hill and thinking, “That wasn’t an accident.”

Arriving at work, turning on the TV, seeing the Pentagon in flames and thinking, “We are being attacked. This is a war.”

Huddling around the TV with a dozen others as we watched the tower fall, and saying over and over, uncomprehendingly, “Are there people in there? Are there people in that building?”

Standing on the deck outside our office and seeing a plume of smoke rise into the air beyond the Capitol building — the Pentagon burning.

Frantically trying to get my coworkers to move away from the windows, fearing that the Capitol would be next. They laughed at me, none of us realizing that at that moment, the heroes of Flight 93 were taking down the plane that was aimed at the beautiful dome just a few blocks away.

The weight of making the decision to send everyone home, even though we weren’t sure it was safe. Walking to my car and passing hundreds of congressional aides milling around dialing their useless cell phones. All systems were down.

Battling evacuating traffic and finally reaching my neighborhood just as the NPR reporter signed off his long and painful shift.  His voice was cracking and wavering with emotion.

Pulling over to the side of the road and wailing like a bereft child.

Stopping at the sub shop because I didn’t want to go home alone. Nobody speaking. An older woman looking at me and shaking her head, over and over, as if trying to expel the images.

A friend came over that night. I don’t remember much of what we said as we tried to process the day, but I remember telling her that I felt like I’d lost an innocence I hadn’t even known existed, and that I would never feel safe again.

In Memoriam

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The Day it’s OK to Be Sad

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I thought I’d re-post this four-year old September 11th blog, since it still seems relevant. Little did I know four years ago when I wrote about the divisions and anger in our nation and at the 2012 political conventions how much worst it could get! Be kind to yourself and to others today, please.

Re-post from 9/11/12

I’m terribly sad, which I suppose makes sense, since it’s September 11th. Everyone is allowed to be sad on this one day. You’re not told to “buck up” or “move on,” you just get to be sad.

The odd thing is, I had forgotten the date. I don’t watch television or get a newspaper, and I usually spend my mornings “unplugged” and in silence. And yet I felt myself sinking from the moment I dragged out of bed, late. I turned on the car radio on my way to the doctor’s office and heard some guy talking about how pain is often a shell around understanding or something like that, and how we have to go through the pain to get to meaning, which is very important in trauma. I turned it off. I was already down and didn’t want to hear about trauma.

Then I saw about a dozen people waving huge American flags from an overpass. Something to do with the election, I guessed. Perhaps they wanted us to honk, but nobody did. It still didn’t register.

It wasn’t until late this afternoon that I was writing a check to my doctor and asked for the date. She looked at me like I must’ve just returned from the Mars expedition. “Oh,” I said, and wrote September 11th.

I feel kind of bad about not remembering, like it’s dishonoring to the people who died and their families. I guess my psyche knew, though I was not aware of it. I had plugged into the cosmic stream of grief and loss that is part of the human journey without even knowing I was supposed to be mourning with the rest of my nation.

Thing is, I no longer feel the sense of oneness and spiritual attachment that was so beautiful during the 9/11 aftermath. (I am *not* saying that 9/11 was beautiful, I am saying there was beauty in our response.) It’s long gone. One of the things I mourn on this day is the fact that we can’t have that unity more often. Even the chants of “USA, USA!” at both the political conventions were accompanied by clenched fists and mostly angry or righteous expressions.

Today my response is not to reach out for community or conversation. It’s to isolate and allow myself to be sad. I’m sure there’s a load of talking going on out there in TV/radio/internet land. Nothing more needs to be said, and I don’t want to hear it.

I’m just doing simple, nurturing things. Writing in my journal, watering plants, filling the birdfeeders and birdbaths, making a healthy salad for tomorrow’s picnic with someone I love.

But here I find myself reaching out, after all. Somehow I just wanted to tell you, whoever you are out there in the blogosphere…I am sad today.

Finding the Beauty in Grief and Loss

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In light of yesterday’s mass shooting at the gay nightclub in Orlando, I am republishing this 2014 post on finding the beauty in grief and loss. Perhaps it can lighten your load today.

RAINBOW US FLAG

It’s amazing what happens when you invite people to talk about grief and loss. It’s as if everybody walks around with a lid on their pain until somebody gives them permission to take it off.

I led a spiritual support group discussion last week and suggested the topic, which won’t surprise you, dear reader, since I’ve offered you virtually nothing else since my brother passed away ten weeks ago.

biff among the cards

But I’m not just talking about death. I’m talking about losing a job and not being able to find another one. I know several people who have been in that ego-crushing situation, and it can lead to serious depression and anxiety issues if the loss is not given its due.

I’m talking about having an intimate relationship slowly fizzle out until you find yourself attached to someone you barely recognize. There’s no “crisis,” yet all your dreams of how life could be with this person are lost. You’re left with a gaping hole that you may try to fill with alcohol, drugs, busyness, shopping, porn – anything to numb the loss that you don’t want to confront.

I’m talking about lost friendships that fade out when one of you moves or leaves a job, or a broken friendship that can’t be mended even if you both try because essential pieces have been lost, most often trust.

Grieving over lost health was a common theme in our support group. One minute you’re an employee, a parent, a sibling and you’re cleaning, fixing, planning, and generally living life, and the next you are a patient being cut open or pumped full of poisons that are supposed to cure you.  You lose who you thought you were.

And of course there’s death. One person in our group lost her father to suicide at sixteen. By the time she was twenty-one, she had also lost her brother in a helicopter crash and her sister and mother to cancer. Although we all knew her at least superficially, none of us in the group had ever heard this before. She had a lid on it.

What resonated most with me at that meeting was a woman who said, “I know it’s weird, but I love grief. I live grief.” She said she couldn’t really explain what she meant, but I think I have a clue.

Grief Makes Us One

For one thing, grief is universal. It is something we all share, and it can bring us together. Not always, of course – I’ve heard countless stories of siblings whose relationships imploded on the death of their parents. But in general, we nod, we empathize, we hug each other. We know.

The Bible says that the “God of all comfort . . . comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” That’s why it’s important to take time alone to process your grief, to take the lid off and let God in, because there’s cosmic comfort there if you ask for it. And it’s a universal spirit of comfort that we can all share with each other. Depending on the day, God’s comfort can knock you off your feet or set you back on your feet.

Grief Makes Us Real

Similarly, grief elicits authenticity. After September 11th, I had a strange feeling of not wanting to leave that cocoon of grief, that sacred time of national mourning: it was a rare time of authentic community for our nation.

We often feel we don’t know what to say to a bereaved person, but that’s because we’re called upon to be totally real. Everyday words don’t seem adequate. Most of the sympathy cards atop my piano start off with, “I don’t know what to say” and then go on to say something lovely. And real.

Real Words

Real Words

Grief Leads Us Towards Our Truth

Grief is deep – it leads us into our true humanity. It drowns out the TV, the advertisements, the ringing phone, and the beeping computer. If we are courageous enough to take the lid off our pain and share it, we can reach our true self – and go there with others.

We all “live grief,” as my friend said. It’s very much a part of being human, and it teaches us to search for meaning and a larger perspective on our little human lives. It teaches us to open up to God and to love one another.

What have you learned from grief and loss?

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