9/11 was my first day of work.
The day that we experienced communal and collective trauma was my birthday as a therapist.
I landed my first internship as primary therapist for severely traumatized children at an elementary school in downtown Washington DC. On September 11 2001, I walked in the front doors of the school at 8:30am. Met my supervisor, fellow staff members, and the children at 8:40am. The towers were hit at 8:45am.
Televisions were wheeled into the hallways of the school. As my supervisor explained my job obligations, the television screen behind her showed plumes of smoke and incomprehensible scenes. All of a sudden, everyone was glued to the set (unfortunately, even the children). As the towers were falling we heard sirens outside (again … this was DC) and heard rumors that the White House was hit. But it was actually the Pentagon.
Social workers, teachers, and staff (all within earshot of the children) started dropping to their knees, crying, wailing, running outside. Panic from professionals. I was in a state of shock and disbelief. I stayed very quiet and still. My supervisor said, “Sorry, I’ve got to go!” and ran to her car. I was left standing alone in the hall and I had no idea what (TF) to do.
For a few hours I thought that my life as a graduate student and fledgling therapist had come to an end. That this horrific day had done me in. It was sink or swim. And I chose to stay and swim… albeit reluctantly at first. How I did it is a story for another time.
I've thought all night about how to end this blog post. To find a "great" way to tie this all together. To tidy this story up in order to make some amazing point that will leave all of you feeling good. After meditating by the ocean this morning, I realize that some stories are best honored as is. We—even healers—should sit with stories too and not try to add a positive twist to everything.
There is no positive twist to the stories of 9/11. In the aftermath? Yes, we can find many. But our stories—the wide spectrum of them from that pivotal day—should be honored for what they are.
Today I will honor the decisive role this story had on my life. It propelled me to feel an odd sense of comfort in the realm of trauma and become the type of therapist and healer I am. And I will mourn and cry and feel amazed at my own resilience.
I honor your stories of that day. I wonder how you will honor them today. One thing I learned from that day is that our stories will come forth in hopes that they are shared. Aired out. Seen and venerated for the impact they had on our lives.
That is how we heal.