9/11 was the first time in decades that America felt vulnerable. Monuments were destroyed, many died, and our illusions of invincibility were dispelled. The resulting trauma was natural and with it came the predicable fear and anger. We went to war, we demonized an entire racial and religious group, and our nation divided against itself.
But it’s 10years later, and its time to heal.
I’ve been working with trauma for a few years now. The process is complex and difficult, but it can be broken down into two (grossly oversimplified steps): (1)Face the trauma and the meanings you have applied to it and (2) Find a way to transform the event into something that allows growth. This is hard to do without guidance, but it is never impossible.
In reference to 9/11, the guidance has always been there. As hard as it was that there was a few people out there that hated us, after it happened, we had nation after nation offering us support. Many of those nations who offered us support have lived regularly with the threat of terrorism, and have learned to live with the reality of vulnerability without succumbing to absolute fear. Maybe we should talk to them more so we can find out how they have found normalcy within the reality of a world where hostility exists. Also, in a world of over 1 billion Muslims, we need to look at our growing Islamaphobia. It’s easy to devolve into an “us vs. them” attitude when faced with such destruction, but the simple truth is that the attacks of 9/11 were carried out by a violent minority, and were not sanctioned by Islamic culture or law. When we can accept that we were only attacked by a small number of extremists, and not an entire civilization, we can abandon our unrealistic fears that we have adopted towards a large number of people who just want the same peace you do. We can live without fear in the post 9/11 world, and we need to begin.
As for transformation, we need to admit that our reaction to 9/11 fractured this nation more than the terrorists ever did. We can’t have civil debate anymore without the conversation falling into insult, mockery, or personal attack. We went to war against the enemy, anyone the enemy looked like, and then anyone within our nation that protested the action. We restricted rights and freedoms, engaged in criminal acts, and if anyone questioned if we were going too far, we called them “traitors,” “unamerican” and made them then enemy as well. And as we drove ourselves into debt funding our wars, we let our own middle class disappear, and the our poor starve in the streets.
But we can do better,and we need to do better. Early on, there was an alternative direction offered. Actor Tim Robbins suggested that our response should have been to go into New York, and not just rebuild the towers, but clean up the streets, repair the slums, feed the hungry, improve the schools, and show the world that “If you hit us, we just come back stronger and better.” We can take that lead, and from now on, respond to 9/11 by saying that “We are all Americans, and if one of us is hurting, we all hurt as one,” and then we can all pull together to heal as one. Whether it’s an hour in a soup kitchen, teaching some volunteer classes in a community center, or just working with a grass roots group to make sure the underrepresented don’t get taken advantage of, there are a lot of things people can do to take up the cause of transforming the state of terror we’ve lived in to one of unity, community and growth.
And maybe, just maybe, the next time some violent whackjob tries to recruit some poor citizen from another nation to hurt us, our reputation can be such that that poor soul will see us as a nation of justice and peace, and turn the terrorist away.