Remembering the Wounds
This week marks the 16th anniversary of 9/11, a day that changed the American psyche forever. The images of the mangled remains of the Twin Towers are seared into our memories like scars, but what other wounds do we still carry?
We’ve all been rattled from time to time by thoughts that someone we know can’t be trusted or is out to get us. Most often, we are over-reacting, so we talk ourselves through the process of coming to our senses. But it is extremely jarring when we find our suspicions to be true, with reality even worse than we dared imagine. September 11, 2001 was the day when most Americans first realized the terrifying, disorienting extent of the hatred toward us by many others.
In the days and months that followed the attack, our centuries-old American rallying cry of “United We Stand! emerged with new fervor. We collectively stiffened our backs, stood tall, and determined that terrorists could not break our human spirit, values, or patriotism. Our despair was conquered by our courage.
Today, we seem to have forgotten that the rest of that famous phrase is “Divided We Fall.” Our country has deep chasms down political, racial, and religious lines, with rage and violence as the newly accepted forms of ideological expression. On even the worst days after 9/11, could any of us envision a country so shattered from the inside?
Does America Have PTSD?
When I was teaching middle school many years ago, one of my favorite sixth graders witnessed a brutal murder. His parents connected him to a counselor, but the trauma and pain often erupted in anger displayed at school–hurling himself at other students, toppling desks, storming out of class. This otherwise delightful boy did the best he could to cope with memories of the unthinkable.
Perhaps, like my student, America is suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and doesn’t know how to deal with it. We now recognize that the world truly is not safe, and there are people who hate enough to kill. But we can’t process this the way a sixth-grader does, with fists and tantrums. The very freedoms that distinguish our country and protect the right to express differing vantage points must urge us to act with civility, and regard for human life, not with force, assault, and bloodshed.
Remembering 9/11 is painful, and the images and emotions of that day are still haunting sixteen years later. But the new terror we face today is losing the heart and soul of America. Of late, many of our values seem to be under attack, with some already crumbling. We have never been perfect, but even so, democracy, freedom, and personal liberty are worth celebrating and worth fighting for. Differences of opinion–no matter how different–must never blind us to the humanity and value in others, or drive us to violence as we seek to be heard or to make changes in systems.
My student conquered his PTSD, and eventually moved on from the thoughts that tormented and threatened to ruin him. I hope that America will, too. If we don’t, one day all the might be left is a memorial somewhere that reads simply, “Divided We Fall.” I hope that will never happen to our country. Let’s all do our part to change systems of injustice in positive ways, and to teach our children to do so, as well.
Melody Rossi is the Founder and Executive Director of Cloud & Fire, a faith-based nonprofit that empowers disadvantaged youth to thrive.
She invites your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org