All that’s different since 9/11

I often think of how we would have looked at the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on our country had we been immersed with social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others.

Information, right, wrong or speculative, certainly would have been in front of us in a much quicker fashion. We would have most likely had many more angles of the planes hitting the towers and probably even better footage of Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon. With that flow of information, however, would have come even more images that were agonizing for many of us.

Even with the flow of information that day, we were mostly sparred the really graphic images of those caught up in the carnage. Today, it would likely be a lot different. What we consumed on a tragedy of that scale would be 10-fold today. And it would be even tougher to erase those images from our conscious.

How we record history is just one of many ways we look at the world differently after 9/11.

Tall buildings, air travel, security – all of it took on a completely different meaning in our minds from Sept. 12, 2001 through today and beyond.

I went to Facebook this week to ask people what has changed in their worlds and I got some fascinating responses.

Briefly, for me, travelling by air has been the toughest change of all for me.

My anxiety regarding flying the friendly skies has skyrocketed since 9/11.

Katy Kelly Lautzenhiser can relate: “Today, I get extremely anxious flying, to the point of taking Dramamine before boarding to escape sickness-induced fear. Simply approaching TSA Security evokes a panic of harassment, or unjustified guilt.”

The little things annoy us – TSA, liquid containers, longer lines, pat-downs.

And then there are those things we are not supposed to openly discuss or question, things that make us uneasy at the airport, or on the plane, or, quite simply, just a vibe we get.

Every person that stands up during a flight is looked at a little longer. Every interaction with a fellow passenger a little less cordial.

The change in air travel procedures ranked on many lists as a big post-9/11 change.

“Even 13 years later, every day air travelers are impacted by the increased security measures that took effect due to 9/11, whether it be the shoes you choose to wear because you’ll have to take them off, the liquids/lotions in your suitcase, whether you put something in a carry-on bag or in checked baggage, etc., not to mention the TSA agents, the random bag checking, earlier check-in, increased emphasis on correct documentation … ” – Darla Hall

Referencing Martha Boyd, a trauma expert with TMC-Lakewood Counseling Services in Lee’s Summit, Lee’s Summit resident Sage Norbury agreed the visual trauma has stuck with us, noting: “I believe that we are suffering from ‘societal PTSD.’ Our subconscious minds couldn’t tell the difference between the first time the plane hit the building and the 389th time (when we incessantly watched the replays). I see trauma signs in the majority of my patients, but most of them never even think of it like that.”

Friend and fellow journalist James Dornbrook, a reporter with the Kansas City Business Journal, noted his increased appreciation for what our fire and police do on a daily basis. A wise observation amid the travel talk.

Chris Drake, a childhood friend, said: “I am even more cautious of my surroundings than I ever was no matter the date, time or area. Always on alert. It occasionally gets tiresome but I refuse to be a victim or caught off guard. Can’t let evil win. I have people who depend on me.”

Another childhood friend, Jim McCollum, noted his caution when he sees a plane overhead, wondering if that aircraft is in control and will it land. I would have thought that unreasonable pre-9/11. Not now.

I was particularly moved by this statement from Pat Larkin from Blue Springs. Pat really brings it back to what is important, saying: “Coming from New Jersey, right across the river, I think of my family more and more. I now never end a conversation without saying I love you. It was a scary day for all of us, had one nephew ready to get on a plane to California, friends in NY. I grew up watching those towers being built, it broke my heart to see them go down.”

A fellow journalism peer and now a fantastic teacher of future journalists, Christina Paulsell Geabhart brought an interesting point of view on the history of 9/11 and her students: “For my seniors, it was their sophomore year, some saw it classrooms. For others, It happened during their upper elementary and middle school years. They watched that news unfold uncensored by parents oftentimes.
Now students don’t seem to grasp the magnitude. They were infants or toddlers and never knew it happened between Elmo and Dora. It’s just another note in the history books for them.”

And mirroring that love for her family, my friend Shannan Godley Cunniffe had a particularly astute look at it: “Our lives are so fragile – they could turn on a dime in an instant. I think about my children, and how as their steward – their protector – it is my duty to shelter them as much as possible, to let them know they are loved unconditionally, to try as much as possible to give them the kind of childhood that I had – filled with innocence and joy and laughter – not the worry and stress and horror that comes with an event like 9/11. Who would have ever imagined? How could we have?”

Amen Shann. And thank you all for sharing.

I believe that in that sharing, we all continue to heal.

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9/11 coverage probably keeps the wounds open

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.