Life's Tool Box – A Guide for Parents and Educators

September 11, 2011

Words, Names and Silence – Tools for the 9-11 Anniversary

Filed under: Tools for Life Posts — by Life's Toolbox @ 2:20 pm
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Listening to names and silence.  Both powerfully capturing the immensity of the day and both bringing me to tears.  Over the week, judiciously trying to avoid too many images, too much pain, I carefully edited what I would watch and read.  In the calm and quiet of the Sabbath, I read two things and heard one that gave me a context, a frame to place around the horror that, while not muting it, allowed me to look at it, to face it, and to be sad in the way one must at such loss and evil.

The first thing I read, a piece by Erica Brown in Jewish Action, discussed Faith in Uncertain Times.  Brown comforted me in her compelling argument that one cannot understand misery, or the world at large.  She reminded me that “as religious beings, we have to learn to reside in a universe that defies comprehension”.   Brown’s recommendation for living in the post-9-11 world is that we learn to stand with Job’s posture of “sacred  uncertainty”.

Ten years have passed since I learned of the tragedy as I arrived in my office at the Alliance for School Mental Health at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.  Ten years since the day I left work early to meet my children after school and tell them what had happened.  The youngest one, then 8 years old, listened to my explanation of the planes crashing into the towers, and asked, with hopeful innocence and remembrance of the massiveness of the
buildings he had visited– but the towers are still there?  When I said they were gone he was puzzled – how could something so substantial, so real, be lost in a moment, where could they go?  Ten years since my colleagues and I manned overnight counseling centers for the Port Authority in the days
following the attacks, faxed and hand delivered materials on helping children with trauma to hundreds of schools (internet and phones were widely affected).    Ten years, and more experience with post-traumatic counseling of children than I wish had been necessary, and I am certain that I  understand the tragedy of 9-11 no more than I did then.

The second words that offered comfort came in Synagogue, reading the L’Dovid psalm 27, traditionally recited from the beginning of the Jewish  month of Elul through the holidays.  It speaks of David’s trust in God, to shelter him from enemies and evil, and ends with the powerful promise that hoping and trusting in God will strengthen you and provide courage.  Coupled with Erica Brown’s suggestion for an acceptance of uncertainty, this seemed a wonderful complement.  I can accept uncertainty and all its discomfort, if I can pair it with unshakeable faith and belief.

The final comfort came from the Rabbi’s sermon.  He did not speak about the tragedy directly, but about the connectedness of humanity.  He spoke of the outpouring of care and support that 9-11 catalyzed – teaching us the best of what we can be.   Citing a Torah law from the week’s reading, he spoke about the earth connecting us – the soil, the ground, as the unifier of humanity.   This week had me feeling disconnected and lonely.  As the morning fills with names of people I did not know, but whose loss I somehow feel, I recognize that the pain that comes with unity makes us a large and wonderful human family.

The names will continue through much of this morning.  Today’s images and sounds of the memorial overlaid on the images and sounds still vivid after ten years will reverberate well beyond today.  Approaching this anniversary, I had thought there were no words  – yet it is words, spoken and written – that brought me comfort.  It is words that convince me my eight year old son was right to refuse to believe the towers had disappeared, because the words and images allow the towers and all the good and glory they offered, to continue to soar towards the sky.  I pray that words, sounds, images and memories serve to comfort all who are in pain, and that together, while still perplexed and uncertain, we are strengthened in our connectedness and our faith.Rendering 9 11 Memorial


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