Thursday, September 10, 2009

Eight Years Out

It was a Tuesday. I don't know why I know it was a Tuesday, but I do. The fact that I do tells you the impact that that day had on me, since the only other days of a year or more ago for which I remember the day of the week are the days each of my children were born and the day I was married. And that last one probably shouldn't count, since Jewish weddings are almost always on a Sunday, at least where I'm from.

It was a Tuesday and the kids were lined up for the bathroom when I heard. And when I talked to my husband on the phone I was sitting in the corner of the office looking at a garbage can. I can still see it in my mind. I can hear my daughter's daycare teacher telling me they were closing, and forgetting to tell me who was calling, first. I can still feel -- not just remember feeling, but actually experience feeling -- the brief terror when I heard an airplane go over my house in the afternoon and realized there were not supposed to be planes in the air, and I ran from the third floor of my house to the first before I realized it was an Air Force jet. I can also see the sign on Rita's Italian Ice saying they were closed for the rest of the day. What I remember perhaps even more vividly is putting my daughter, aged 3 1/2 years, to bed a few weeks later and reassuring her that our house was a safe place, that we were safe, and leaving her room and saying, "OK, now she feels safe. Who's going to make me feel safe?"

Absolutely everyone has at least some memories like this. This was a national, group trauma. And while we all experienced it differently, and certainly some of us experienced it much more directly than others, virtually no one over the age of about 13 doesn't remember it, or doesn't thing it affected them.

Trauma violates our worldview. That day violated the notion that many of us still had that this was a safe country, that we were personally not in danger, and that getting up in the morning and going to work was a reasonably safe activity. It happened in specific cities, but it happened in all of our living rooms, to all of us. That was the intent of it in the first place -- to terrorize. It is small wonder that most of us still can have those sensory memories triggered by something or other.

If you think this analysis is overblown, or overly dramatic -- if you think the effect on us collectively was not that great -- consider this. Nowhere in this post have I mentioned what day I remember so vividly. But you all knew anyway.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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