When 9/11 happened, we watched in horror as the second airplane hit the twin towers.
I realized immediately that this was big, life changing danger. But I also realized immediately, that I personally was safe. And so was my family. We live 6 hours north of NYC, and whatever happened there impacted us only indirectly at that time.
So I wasn’t traumatized, the way many of our friends were. I just knew that we needed to stay put and wait.
I talked this through with a friend who is a psychologist.. Initially, she wanted to insist that I needed to process this just like everybody else. But I explained to her:
“Look, I grew up during the Cold War in Germany. At any given time, we had somebody’s weapons, nuclear or not pointing at us. We have always known that the decision of one person can wipe us out. But it didn’t.
We learned early on that life isn’t safe, that danger is real and that war happens, even in your own country, your own backyard and without it being your fault. I found shrapnel in my sandbox from WWII. Many houses were still in ruins from the bombardment of my city. You learn to focus and take care of your needs. You prepare, but you don’t panic.
You learn to be deeply compassionate, to help out where you can, but you also know that you’re personally ok.
I came to realize that many people in the US didn’t have that experience. Somehow, many of those that I talked to, who also lived far away from the attacks, had believed that nothing would ever happen here. I am not sure why…
They lost their innocence that day.
And as they didn’t know what to do, they replaced safety with helplessness.
Helplessness causes trauma. It’s a big, big deal.
So to become resilient, we need to have something strong in life, something we can fall back on, strategies, experiences, something that we know to be true.
We need to have our feet on the ground and have a solid sense of self.
And we need a purpose, a reason to make it through and move on.
I wasn’t traumatized at 9/11, but for sure, my life and the lives of many dear friends changed forever that day.