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Reflecting on the Costs and Gifts of 9/11

Despite the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks there can be some good to come of it

(Image: ThinkStock)

My memories of 9/11 are like snapshots. They’re flashes of vivid moments seared into my brain and onto my heart, both of which were traumatized that September day in ways that they had never been before or have been since.

Here’s what I remember: A day so clear, bright, and beautiful, it made me actually stop and thank God before breakfast. Kissing my three-year-old son as he walked into his second day of nursery school. Cell phones suddenly going off all around me; the gasps and expressions of horror and disbelief as those phones were answered. Watching the day—and every plan and hope it held at dawn—crumble in wrenching slow motion along with those two massive towers at the tip of Manhattan. Hearing my husband’s voice saying he was fine from his office a mile away from what we now know as Ground Zero.

Praying.

Sitting with a dozen family members, our backs to the blaring TVs in Red Lobster’s bar area, singing “Happy Birthday” to my mother as the sun finally set on the day that changed life as we knew it. It was impossible not to feel the directness of the attack, even from miles away, just as it’s impossible not to reflect on it now, a full decade later.

The 9/11 terrorist acts may have been political, but the impact was personal. It wasn’t until the next day that I heard my friend, Michael Berkeley, was among the missing. Mike went to work at his private equity firm, The Berkeley Group, in the World Trade Center that day and was never seen again.

September 11th was Mike’s birthday. He was 39 years old.

It would be nearly a month before he was formally memorialized, on the grounds of Winged Foot Golf Club, beside a course that he loved. It took that long to fully realize and accept that he was one of the thousands lost forever that day. In the 10 years since, as Mike’s two little boys have grown into young men, we have come to terms with those losses and so much more. Talk about winging it! We had no precedent for that kind of pain, or for the positive outcomes—yes, I said positive—that would come of it.

A lot is made of post-traumatic stress syndrome, and for good reason. It is real, its effects can be devastating, and it requires sustained treatment and loving care. But there is also evidence of what healthcare professionals term, “post-traumatic growth.” This is the good that grows from the worst life has to throw at us, and numerous studies have found ample evidence of it in 9/11’s wake.

There were the obvious shafts of light throughout that dark time: heroic acts of selflessness and courage, large and small; displays of patriotism more passionate and widespread than we’d seen in a generation; the swell of philanthropic and altruistic acts from donating blood, food, shelter and clothing to volunteering time and energy with organizations throughout the country and the world. Like it or not, our worldview was expanded, and that’s been a plus; our self-awareness as a nation was broadened as was our knowledge of people and places that had previously seemed remote.

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