Everyone recognizes the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on our country in different ways. The emotions run the gamut.
Some hit the gym. Others go about their work day with some notice of the news. And a few of us watch the re-broadcast of the day “as it happened” on MSNBC and subsequent 9/11 specials on The History Channel and NatGeo.
The commercial airplanes, Flights 11 and 175, careening into the towers, over, and over, and over, and over. Then the towers crumbling into lower Manhattan. The Pentagon. Americans with no options left, above the impact zones, jumping to their deaths 90 stories below.
I began to ask myself, “why do I put myself through this every year?”
The story was powerful to me, as it was to all Americans, in the minutes, hours and days after those two planes purposefully flew into the World Trade Center. As a journalist parading around as an advertising representative for the Blue Springs Examiner, there was no bigger story I would ever cover, even if it was from thousands of miles away.
Watching on a small television in our conference room, I saw the second plane hit and both towers fall as these events unfolded. My reactions were raw, powerful, emotional. And as we gathered as a journalism organization, many of us knew this was a story for the ages. Something we would carry for a lifetime.
The problem is, some people have carried it for 13 years, the images viewed over and over never going away. Imagining the pain and suffering of ravenous fires inside a building, life-and-death decisions and hearing the voices filled with anguish on the voice mail of loved ones.
Martha Boyd, a clinical supervisor and trauma recovery therapy expert at TMC-Lakewood Counseling Services in Lee’s Summit, can relate. Unlike many of us covering the story from the Midwest, Boyd knew someone in the towers that day. Her association to 9/11 had a face. A name.
Boyd and her friend, whom she’d worked with on non-profit projects for many years, had just attended a Chiefs game the Sunday prior to Sept. 11, 2001. On Monday, her friend got on a plane for New York.
On Tuesday, she died in Tower 2.
Boyd says the “multiple exposures” we all take in from that day leads to stress and strain.
“People didn’t have to be in New York. They become traumatized by the exposure and the continued exposure of this horrific event. The reason everyone gets re-triggered, our minds were not capable of processing it, so our minds get stuck.”
There was never a trace of Boyd’s friend recovered from Ground Zero. No closure. But Boyd doesn’t dwell on that. While seeing the images on the anniversary and throughout the years can trigger emotional and other traumas, Boyd chooses to focus on the positive memories of her friend.
From a professional point of view, immersing in the images of 9/11 isn’t a healthy habit. For me, talking to Boyd gave me an even greater perspective on the residual effects of what I was viewing on TV – that my daughter Addy, even in the midst of playing with her dolls and toys, was taking it in, too.
I found myself giving her a very small portion of information about planes hitting buildings, thinking that I was sharing information about a crucial piece of our nation’s history. Addy began to ask questions about people in the towers, how long ago it happened and about her cousin Mimi, who, today in 2014, lives outside of New York City. I explained that this happened long before Mimi lived in New York and, clearly cognizant of her acute awareness of the gravity of what was on TV, changed the station and let her know that many people got out of the buildings OK and went home to see their families.
Over the last few days, Addy has asked again about the buildings and the airplanes.
Boyd’s message was heard loud and clear: “Parents need to be mindful and not have children watching it. It will traumatize them.”
Some day, I will show Addy the newspapers from Sept. 12, 2001.
And my hope is there is a time when many of us can break away from the images. While I realize there is a journalistic responsibility to airing the coverage, I also know there is a human responsibility many of us have not to be consumed and continually affected by it.