Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9/11 | 10 Year Anniversary

Hi Colleagues,

8:46-10:28am EDT.  

The approximate time from the first plane strike to the building collapse.  The question of course follows

[ Where were you on 9/11? ]

So the question looms.

8:46am EDT=5:46am PDT.  

At that time I most likely sat in my parents' kitchen and waited for the sun to rise over the dark eastern foothills while finishing my then-favorite breakfast of yogurt, bananas, Chex, and tea before driving to my then-job as a technical writer contracting for a software engineering department at a well-known aviation company.  That morning felt dastardly and daunting, besides the obvious, as we watched our product, of which we and our locale prided ourselves, used as a weapon of mass murder.  In the days that followed, employees waited patiently in line as guards checked our ID badges before entering campus.  I thanked them every time.

Recently a Pac-Asia friend and I commented online about each other's memories of 9/11:
It seemed a surprise to many. It's hard to comprehend. There's much to say, so I reserve my thts for my upcoming post. Thx for sharing what you remembered. I walked into work at ~630am [PDT] and the office was empty. Walked past the conference room where people sat and a tv showed images of smoke. It was eerie the silence n confusing the expressions on coworker's faces. I asked around and learned what happened. 'Keep your head in all situations comes to mind,' but I panicked, which was not new those days, called me dad, n eventually went home. There wouldn't be much wk to do anyway. I was laid off 1 mo later (I contracted). It's no celebration to inflict harm on people. 'Do not let your hearts be troubled/ afraid...' I try to be sensitive as I realize people still hurt over it.
A couple weeks following 9/11, my family and I visited Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent, Wash.  The cemetery's flags fluttered and snapped in the wind along the Rainier Vista promenade and the central flag at half mast.  Soon thieves would steal those 38 flags, and then steal again after people donated more.  At the time, those flags stood tall and attentive in the bright 1 of 71 days/year of Pacific Northwest sun.  They looked calm and composed with rest of the hushed grounds, so opposite our allegedly living world.

In the months that followed, I photographed flags and ribbons:


This flag was so old it had 1 less star on it than current flags.
How many stars does that make? 49
This flag would soon be stolen (above)





Renton's Veterans' Memorial Park (above)




Yellow ribbons at former Thomson Center (above 5)
Promenade at Seaside, OR (above)

Flowers at statue at Skyway Fire Department (above 2)
Community members left flowers at fire houses
for months and subsequent anniversaries after 9/11
The Only Thing We have to Fear is...

It was quite a time for all of us.  I only wish that I had my wits about me to be of help.  C.S. Lewis (1961) wrote that grief feels as fear.  That time imploded for me in many directions:  Grandpa died, my mom underwent a surgery and then was in a car accident, I struggled with chronic physical illness and anxiety, akin to, but much worse, than the early morning ka-boom that sent my sister and I scurrying to the street in our hometown.  The city had just imploded an old mill, the rising plumes of which an eerie small-scale reminder of recent events.

The good news:  I had a great contract job technical writing, and  I had recently graduated from undergrad studies, the change of which was the proverbial final straw, but good news can't be blamed.  After 9/11, businesses tightened their budgetary belts and I was laid off from my job.  I then care-gave for family members and worked as a paraeducator.  9/11 amplified the sense of lack of safety and peace that I felt inside.  Fear seemed already my norm.

How did fear influence 9/11 and after?

Of Mentors & Journals

My paternal aunt mentored me during this time in the book of Romans, a treatise on the Christian faith, which I later studied for 2 years with a women's group at church.  I wrote these words in my journal on 9/29/01:
I fear death... BUT, God's love is constant.  He loved me before I kneew or turned to him... He [Jesus] gave his life and suffered death, separation from His Father, so I could know and experience his love.  Should I think that He would forget me and let me slip thru His fingers, eyes closed?  The greatest thing I could fear is death; Jesus already died for me.  Suffering, pain, fear; Jesus experienced those, too.  God knows how I feel better than I do.  Think outside the box.  Don't play the 'what if' (or 'if only') game...  God won't ever abandon me and is my helper, so I can be confident and not fear.  The remedy to fear is God Himself.  God is love. 'Perfect love casts out fear'... (1 John 4:18-19)
Tripartite Love... and Sanity

Maybe I feared death; maybe I searched for an explanation.  Be that as it may, much of my journey these last 10 years has stemmed from the reflecting on fear/love.  Love God and neighbor as self:  the tripartite love imperative.  Ten years later here I am. I've grown along the way as I continue to reflect on that latter imperative.  "Perfect love casts out fear..." Sometimes I feel lonely, abandoned, afraid, and unsafe, but my mission in life is not to be safe.  Too many variables abound, and we're not omniscient or omnipresent, nor should we be.  Look at what happens when people hate and punish other people who don't reflect their image.  Where's hope, life, or a future in that?  Where's logic or sanity?  

If we hate, then we don't believe love is available to us.  We persecute or harm others believing we avenge ourselves.  In so doing, we call A bad and good at the same time:  bad enough to have been done to us, but good enough to up the ante and inflict pain on someone else.  Vengeance was the spirit of 9/11, and it only devastated people with loss and pain.

Achieve / Grace

I've made progress, and some have said that success is in my blood, but if it is, then that's not solely my doing.  My aunt reminds me to locate Christ instead of measuring my growth against myself.  I'll most likely think I'm worse/better off than I am!  Most of my hard work has involved changing life habits from fear to love.  My aunt reminds me to remember God's grace.  It's not about me or my abilities in an ableist world.  Sometimes I feel I haven't accomplished much.  It's hard to concentrate on any task if you're trying not to panic 24-7-365.  

That's why I bring up my accomplishments.  They're somewhat a miracle:  I've married my college sweetheart and graduated with an MA.  I started a photography business.  I've written 4 manuscripts, but need to publish them.  I founded Text and Pixels, a consulting organization.  I've traveled to places when I used to sit on the floor in my room physically sick and trying to will the fear away with prayer, Bible verses, and avoidance.  

Engaging Faith

Since 2001 I've not thought of myself as possessing much faith.  Thankfully for me, faith mostly involves an idiom for living and behaving.  Faith is never blind or a leap; faith is a conscientious expression of choice.  I'm encouraged by Haskin's (2008) survivor account of her 9/11 journey through faith and healing.  I desire to help people through difficulties via faith, writing, vocational advice, and friendship.  Such behaviors show faith--are faith.  Faith necessitates responsive action.  I hope, communicate love.  If we practice living and behaving in love, then perhaps that will help us deal with loss and crises.

Choose this Day...

"You have a choice," a pastor counselled me.  At first his words angered me because the fear felt out of control.  Yet deep down I knew he was right, and the freedom appealed to me.  If I did have a choice, then my life could be different.  I might have a future after all, a future where I connected and contributed with a confidence centered on a lifestyle of love and not controlled by fear.  Choose this day whom I will serve...  Choices take time to become habits, and the habits, lifestyle.

Perishable Hate

This theorizing about life and virtue sounds too vague, but the challenge remains.  I used to feel ashamed at my head-on struggle with anxiety and disconnect during 2001 and the years that followed.  Whenever I feel fear, I question its worth.  Fear associates with judgement or punishment.  The greatest feeling of judgement comes with death.  "S/He who hates abides in death." So you see the habits of the heart can seed violence or life.

Living with Death

Of fundamental importance in this life involves living well amid mortality awareness.  Mortality awareness is a mean-spirited thing.  I studied it for my Master's thesis, but that's not why mortality/awareness is mean.  Death seems unjust and caricaturizes the imago dei in all of us.  It's catastrophic, really; you try your whole life to get ahead, and people who wrong or hurt or cheat and steal seem to outpace you and those who kill take away the most important person and you're left with a hungry void that won't be filled, but gnaws at you anyway.

The writer of Ecclesiastes says that life is futility and vanity because time, chance, and mortality overtake our best and worst efforts.  Death, the equalizer.  Let our limited life spans remind us to reach in to reach out and vice-versa instead of mistreating each other in fear.  Fear is a ruthlessly unsatisfied and ungracious taskmaster.  Fear is a vice, but we can change our vices.  The good news is that hate/death have a limited shelf life.  One day, they won't be able to save themselves.  Their nature won't allow them that win.  They, too, will expire.

Loser Takes Nothing

I don't dare ask those who lost to forgive; we all lost that day.  Even the terrorists lost.  After all, whoever errs by believing that they gain by destroying and harming others lives and their livelihood's infrastructure loses.  Hate/fear destroys life; whereas, Love gives it.  This is because "Evil won't rescue those who practice it."  I say "evil" because it's evil to harm others.  I like to encourage people to gain by developing their vocation to serve others.  Then no one need to issue harm to build themselves up.  The method influences the outcome.

[ How do you think we should respond to crises? ]

Justice

Of course that idea comes with a price.  "What does God require of you, O Mortal, but to Love justice, mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Mic. 6:8)."  Yes I write this post from a Judaic-Christian perspective, and no, I don't assume that others follow that tradition.  "Faith, hope, and love remain, but the greatest of these is love" is a reality we can appreciate in remembering loss and responding to subsequent fear experiences.  We can't guarantee love from others, but if we want to experience love, then we must first be loving.  To do that, it helps to have an example.

Comfort

Compassion means suffering with (Kouzes & Posner, 2003).  I find comfort in the glimpses of love we see in those who laid down their lives for others, in the daily acts of kindness never small, and I take courage in God is love... and not a fire storm.  As for me, I'll keep trying to live in love and not fear.  I find encouragement in that "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).

Remembering the Greater War

Much of remembrance involves reflecting and valuating an event or person in your past in parallel with your present and future life story.  Let's write a new story for a Loving future and be so active in our work we refuse to give hate the credit that it doesn't deserve.  

After all, being tolerant doesn't mean reciprocating hate.  That's just insanity and hypocrisy.  If you ask me to tolerate, then there's one thing I won't tolerate, and that's hate.  The question is, do we have the spirit to confront our own hate?  Mohammed called the internal struggle to live out one's [Muslim] faith the greater jihad.  A radical few place their resurgence on external jihad otherwise reducing external people groups to "evil."

Wisdom is better than weapons of war; but one wrong-doer undoes much good. 

Responding to Political Correctedness

I don't equivocate intolerance with hate; it is not an act of love to permit violence just as it is not an act of love to take revenge.  Tolerance is not to be confused with a cry for compliance, cristophobia, or anything else but what it is:  putting up with others difference with dignified and non-violent means.  I suggest moving beyond begging for tolerance to a format for dialogue.  Freire (1970) argued that oppressed societies must find a way to integrate and involve their oppressors in making things right.  Tutu (1999) said there's no future without forgiveness.  What do you do with repeat offenders or those who make it clear they intend violence?  I don't know.  I do know that absorbing in service and life-saving teaching via expressing our gifts remains one constructive way to build.  I also know that maintaining justice as levied by our Bill of Rights exists as an essential task. 

Disaster Responsiveness

Consider 9/11's many courageous people, such as Betty Ong, Flight 11 attendant:


Dad says that if you plan ahead, you can do anything.  Perhaps you can handle anything, too.  This transcript demonstrates why we needed to develop a more coordinated disaster response post-9/11.  I felt frustrated by the ineffective intervention given the call duration and the forgetfulness or repetition of details.  The silence gaps bothered me the most.  Safety gaps, FAA cuts, multi-sector deregulation, and hospital preparedness concerns suggest that emergency response training and systems need to be constantly visited and tested.

Thankfully, since 9/11, the National Incident Management System (NIMS) has developed a comprehensive, national approach to incident management that is applicable at all jurisdictional levels and across functional disciplines.  This approach reminds me of iterative management practices that allow flexibility, organization, and open communication.  Learn more and access NIMS' Resource Center, Incident Command System's Resource Center, and the National Preparedness Directorate.  Check out NIMS' Independent Study Program.

Incident Command System's basic premise:  Disaster response begins and ends locally.  Locally, King County invites citizens to participate in the Community Emergency Response Team via its Citizen Corps Programs.  These programs intend to my city annually drills for disaster response, identified a need to certify people and emulate effective training programs in emergency response, and offers an emergency response guide and disaster preparedness training to residents.  Via its Community Liasion program, Renton engages multi-cultural populations so that these populations can access city services and so be less at risk during disasters.  I encourage organizations and agencies to participate and apply Federal Incident Command System Training to your locale.

[ What has helped you to cope with 9/11? ]

Building

What's your story?  What does 9/11 mean to you?  How do you respond to fear?  How do you define Love?  Share you Loving memories and new story.  Participate in 9/11 memorial services in Renton and Seattle.  Read survivor stories and remembrance collections (this one compiled by Christianity Today).  Hold people starting with yourrself accountable when in wrong; praise, honor, and emulfy when right by others.  Continue working to build just and prosperous civil societies.  Study the transcripts and see where we can improve our response.  

Serving via Gifts

Most of all, find a way to serve others and take care of yourself via the loving expression of your gifts.  We participate, cope, and make meaning through rituals such as remembrance ceremonies.  Rituals for me include writing, photography, and blogging because these texts help me to participate, cope, and search for beauty in loss.  I'm not talking about opportunism.  Writing intermedia texts to communicate and lead helps me sort things out and maybe help others, too.  ICS can organize people via their gifts and skills. 

Peace of Mind 

Just be forewarned that the activity will never be sufficient.  Crises challenge our peace of mind.  As my prof once said, to realize peace, we must first be peaceful.  Peace of mind constitutes a health resource.  Societies with resources prosper when appropriating those resources wisely.  Perhaps such prosperous societies are peaceful ones.  For me, I seek peace of mind by drawing closer to God as my center.  I can see Grandma say, "You don't have to fear anything--anything!" because of Jesus.  Corrie Ten Boom, holocaust survivor and world speaker, said that "If you look at the world, you'll be distressed. If you look within, you'll be depressed. If you look at God you'll be at rest." I admire their faith.  I wait to abide by their lessons.  Meanwhile I'm again encouraged:

God has not given us a spirit of fear, 
but of power 
and of love 
and of a sound mind.

Healing

Healing involves reconciling events that you can't control or change, such as mortality and loss, by choosing to continue to live, grow, or as my sister says, "respond instead of react."  How can you respond today? Who would you call to ask forgiveness, to say thank you, I love you, or to invite somewhere fun?  It's okay to have fun in loss; don't feel guilty if the burden ever lifts.  Maybe it won't, but maybe fun is that side of forgiveness that entails doing nice things for others.  Fun means you have the freedom to enjoy others instead of fear them.  You don't let them defeat who you want to be.

Changed Life;
Changed World

Changing habits comes at a snail's pace at first, but gains momentum.  Thankfully, triumphs come in small steps, but those steps build on themselves and lead to big, but rewarding, risks.  Sometimes it took all the courage for me just to drive somewhere to meet someone, or to eat out.  For each step you take builds on itself, each habit merges to morph you into the person you and we will be.

Write a New Story

Recently a friend challenged me to "write a new story" for myself "and go do it."  I imagine over these last 10 years many others have dealt with their own stressors, fears, and challenges.  Maybe those years I felt fear overwhelmed me, but fear wouldn't define me.  My desire and effort to challenge my response in good company did.  

Stand Tall

Stand tall, and when the work is finished, remain standing... Part of learning to stand involves how you respond when you fall.   The good news: we're rebuilding. The Freedom Tower will stand 1,776 feet tall.  1776:  The year that started all that is USA with the signing and embossing of The Declaration of Independence.  That's poetically appropriate, don't you think?
... And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
Hope

"Tomorrow's a new day," my mom says.  "Sufficient is today's cares," said Jesus.  So we don't worry about tomorrow, but we hope for it.  The story continues.

[ For what are you grateful since 9/11? ]

Give Thanks

My aunt gave me art of pressed purple pansy flowers framed in pine with script that reads

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

As I awoke this 9/11 with the moon hanging low, rotund, yellow, and heavy on the pre-dawn horizon, I felt struck by a sense of gratitude, and from the gratitude, joy.  This week I've researched, written, and reflected on 9/11 events.  I've felt somber and sad anticipating today.  I'm surprised that from sorrow dawned thankfulness for the following things I re-discovered after 9/11:

Healing necessitates a coming together of mind-spirit-embodied person as a whole.  Being whole needs a bit of reflection to fuel insight and foresight for the future.  I'm astounded at how active my life appears now when compared to the 9/11 season.  Living things grow. I've much growing left, but for now I'm reminded to show appreciation and to say thank you.

[ How did you commemorate 9/11? ]

So What?

Why bring all this up for 9/11?  Some might equivocate moving on to forgetting or not acknowledging the event.  I encourage people to respond in a way that honors and gives meaning to the lives lost while applying lessons learned.  Mostly, my journey through fear parallels ours.  I am persuaded that much of 9/11 had to do with fear/hate, the spirit of which remains.  Living beyond fear means choosing to engage in those very things of importance to you, those good things that in spite of their goodness illicit fear.   I encourage people to apply their gift(s) to serve others.  How much better is that than tearing down others to build yourself up?  Be that peace, love, and light in the world.  Be that faith in loving action!

Closing Credo: Empathize

My mom used to ask where is empathy?  Mom concluded that parents need to teach their children empathy without needing to read Rogers (1989; 1994) to value empathetic understanding's benefit to human development.  President Obama said:
The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity. It may find expression in a particular brand of violence, and may be channeled by particular demagogues or fanatics. Most often, though, it grows out of a climate of poverty and ignorance, helplessness and despair.
We empathize with our senses and imagination in relationships.  When I think back to those sad days, I will remember the day before 9/11 pointing at a passenger plane dotting the blue sky and commenting on how how amazing it was to think that people were flying up there, seated in chairs, in the air.  I smell the crisp autumn walks crunching orange leaves during my breaks, feel the soft fabric on my aunt's floral couch listening to her story, hear a pastor say, "You have a choice," watch the road as I drive down the hill to our church to volunteer in a children's program with our niece, see the dim light of my bedroom at night as I began to pray, and still learn what it means to apply myself in faith, hope, and love instead of fear.  

I applaud and smile at the outstanding performances of USA Olympic athletes in Salt Lake City 2002 with my would-be husband and parents in their rec room.  Team USA tied with Norway for the most gold medals won during a home Winter Olympics.  Recalling those athletes performing with heart amid our collective loss makes me feel the most emotional.

[ How do you contribute
to a peaceful world? ]

Coda:  Inner Workings of Community

Many difficulties continue.  This blog has provided a platform and 10 years has given us space to reflect on 9/11.  I hope that I've encouraged people to respond in compassion and empathetic understanding by sharing their gifts in a spirit of peace, love, and goodwill and discover connection, confidence, and their contribution.  Today, building from my friend, answer this question, write this new story for yourself, and then go do it.  Finally, empathy's plus side:  you're not alone even if you feel that way.  I'm closer to people in my life now than then.  We grieve not in a vacuum.  We are We the People after all!



Local artists remember 9/11
at Renton Sidewalk Chalk Contest (above)
Pause

And now, I have written many words.  I feel indulgent.  I talked about myself and faith.  I sound too idealistic.  My words seem insufficient.  Yet I hope my life lives up to them.  It goes without saying, but these nearly 3000 were real living people who responded and lived.  When I read transcripts of calls (port authority employees, dispatchers, passengers/attendants, NYFD) placed before they died, I feel them as a person.  Even though I didn't know them, I miss them.  

Who's a hero? Heroes are here.  People who respond.  Thank you to all who responded in courage, compassion, and skill.  Thank you to all of you in the world who mourned and remember with us.  Thank you to each person who reached out to me to make my life better.  I am sorry for those of you who lost a loved one.  The events that transpired on 9/11 were sad and worthy of tears.  Remember that not everyone can share their vivid recollections with their loved one.  Please pause with for a moment of silence for those voices that can no longer speak.

Peace, Love, & Light,
Dena

References

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed.  New York:  Continuum.

Haskin, L. (2008). Between Heaven and Ground Zero: One woman's struggle for survival and faith in the ashes of 9/11.  Bloomington, MI:  Bethany House.

Kouzes, J.M., & Posner, B.Z. (2003).  Credibility:  How leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lewis, C.S. (1961).  A grief observed.  London:  Faber and Faber.

Rogers, C. (1989).  On becoming a person:  A therapist’s view of psychotherapy.  New York:  Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C.R. (1994). The necessary and sufficient conditions a therapeutic personality change.  In R. Anderson, K.N. Cissna, & R.C. Arnett (Eds.), The reach of dialogue: Confirmation, voice and community (pp. 126-140).  Hampton, NJ: Hampton.

Tutu, D. (1999).  No future without forgiveness.  New York:  Doubleday.