Beauty in Tragedy: The Attacks of September 11

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9/11 Memorial

Yesterday I met a security guard who worked at the World Trade Center during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He cleared the lobby of his tower before he escaped and the tower crashed down. His memories of that day haunt him; he is beset with anxiety. He remembers the bodies on the ground, the remains of the people who jumped to their deaths to escape the heat of the scorching flames. He lost his friends who worked security on the upper floors of the towers, including his best friend and his best friend’s wife who worked together.

On 9/11, the best friend’s four-year-old son became an orphan. The security guard told me how the little boy cried nonstop for days and days calling out for his mommy and daddy. I was so depressed when I heard that story. I thought of my four-year-old daughter, and my heart broke. I didn’t know how to lift my spirits after reliving 9/11 with someone who had experienced it firsthand.

I told myself that I cannot change what happened, that the past is the past. I thought about the little boy, who is now a young adult. On September 11, 2001, a kind, loving man, the security guard, took that little boy home with him and made the boy his son. The security guard and his wife opened their hearts and home to the little boy and became his mommy and daddy. While I cannot change the loss and sadness of 9/11, I can feel good when I think about good people doing good in the world. I can endure my feelings of sadness when I see that there is beauty even in tragedy.

Anxiety in a World of the Unthinkable

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We live in a crazy world of mass shootings and bombings. How can we live without fear and anxiety? How can we feel safe?

I choose not to recount the episodes of terror that our nation and the world has faced. Most everyone knows of the horrid shootings, violent bombings and the senseless loss of life.

Our president, local law enforcement and our spiritual leaders speak of the “unthinkable” when talking about these tragedies. In simple terms, “unthinkable” means something about which it is too upsetting to think.

Although the unthinkable can happen, the way to live in this unpredictable world is simply not to think about the horrible things that could happen, not to think about the unthinkable. If you spend your time thinking about the unlikely but tragic possibilities in life, you will bring anxiety upon yourself and paralyze yourself with fear. Your dark thoughts will crowd out good, positive ones. It is not healthy or helpful to think about what could go wrong that you cannot control. I am not saying that we should blindly go about our lives not thinking about risks. There are ads on the New York City subway that say, “If you see something, say something.” We must be aware of our surroundings.

In this unpredictable world, we can make choices about how we want to live our lives, meaning where we want to go and what we want to do. We can come up with individual plans for how to deal with the risks of our day, however remote. Right now, I would feel too vulnerable to enjoy myself at an outdoor event with a large crowd of people in an open, unsecured space. That is just me. Our leaders would tell us to stand up to terror by carrying on with our lives and living without fear. I’m still a work in progress.

Once you decide what you are comfortable doing and what you are not, which I will call your “plan,” then follow your plan and try your hardest not to think about worst-case scenarios. The secret to thriving in a world where the unthinkable sometimes happens is to control your thoughts so you do not think about the unthinkable. Should a bad thought creep into your consciousness, swat it away with an imaginary fly swatter. There is so much to do and accomplish in life, and so much potential for joy. Embrace life and do not let fear and anxiety consume you.

These are unsettling times, so if you find yourself suffering from fear and anxiety that you cannot overcome yourself, please seek out professional help. You may benefit from talk therapy and/or prescription medication. The world is a scarier place than it used to be, and there is no shame in needing help.