Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Thinking Positive After Tragedy: 9/11 and Beyond

© Kris Kros Photography
© Kris Kros Photography. Used with permission.

A Zogby poll today showed that 77 percent of those living in the East and 46 percent of those living in the West thought about the attacks at least weekly. About 83 percent thought the nation should remember the attacks with some formality.

I can't say that I think about 9/11 weekly. Sometimes my world is filled with too much living in the now to leave room for the past. There is my long list of disabilities I struggle with, my longer list of responsibilities I clumsily juggle, and then there is the simple fact that any parent with children will be short on contemplative time. That is not to say, however, that I forget. Tragedy is difficult to forget.

Ryan and my three oldest daughters circa 1999My brother, Ryan, was a marine. He died two years before 9/11 when his shuttle filled with fellow marines on leave was hit by a drunk driver in San Diego. Watching his hometown friends' lives move on is often bittersweet. There are those who went on to college, found a wife and a career, and began to raise families. There are those still pursuing education, those that struggle with life, and those that served in the military thick in the turmoil in Afghanistan and Iraq. My brother would have taken part in that turmoil. There is a hole in our life where Ryan should be. I imagine many families of 9/11 victims have the same bittersweet feeling watching the lives of others around them move on.

I didn't have any family or friends connected with 9/11. I had no funerals to attend, no loved one to fear for or ultimately mourn. I do remember, however, being like most other Americans that terrible morning. I turned on the TV to get my morning news fix and watched the world change live. I missed the first plane crash, but caught the second. Nothing in Hollywood can truly capture such horror on film.

In the aftermath, I could perfectly relate with the nightmare loved ones all over America were experiencing. I took the phone call from the hospital after my brother's brutal collision. I had to wake my parents with the news that their son was hanging on for dear life two states away. I know the pain a sudden unexpected death can gouge into one's heart. My family relives that pain often when we bump into old friends or even watch TV. Nancy Grace frequently flashes my brother's face on screen during drunk driver segments. My mother, ever the anti-drunk driving activist, is honored to have Ryan's life be remembered in this cautionary way. My brother in Boston thinks Nancy Grace is a ghoul. Since I don't have cable and don't watch the show I am insulated. I wonder how I'd feel if Ryan's face suddenly looked back at me from the TV screen. It is not too hard to imagine how the families of 9/11 victims feel when the same thing happens to them.

(cc) stanHow then do we honor the lives of those who have passed without being trapped in the past with them? How do we look forward brightly when there is pain still in our hearts? I am a strong proponent of positive thinking because of the transformative effect it has had on my life, but some events push the limits of simple positive thinking. When thinking about 9/11 and the political nightmare that followed I can think of much that qualifies as negative and little that qualifies as positive. For example, I find the 9/11 General Strike folks disgustingly negative. This is not a day to foist conspiracy theories up on public poles to get in the face of mourners. Such tactics can be as repulsive as the "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" approach of the Westboro Baptist Church. There is so much anger and ugliness on both sides that I fail to see how any good can come of it.

In America, however, these people have a right to voice whatever vitriol they want out into the Universe. Fortunately, we, too have a right to voice our opinions. We can state how much we disagree with them. The Natalie Maines of the world can say whatever they want, but they can't dictate whether people approve of what they say. That choice lies within us. I can choose to hate the young man who stole my brother from me, or I can choose to forgive him and focus instead on the good things Ryan brought to my life and share that joy with my children. Forgiveness is not the same thing as approval. I am content with this distinction.

(cc) paulcalypseHow you honor the fallen of 9/11 is a matter of personal choice whether you plant flags or wave banners, but I would recommend that you not let negativity grip your heart. Depression, anger, blame, and guilt all nail our hearts into the past and hold us back from growing forward. Negativity eats at us and dampens hope, but the feelings are so strong we can lose ourselves in them. In cases of tragedy, the best we can hope for is peace in our hearts. Happiness is too much to ask for. Bittersweet memories may bring a smile to your face, however. Focus on things that help you smile. Let the good things of the ones you lost carry you through the day.

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