This year marks 22 years of commemorating the terrorist attacks of 9/11. We were (and are) so personally touched by this day in history. On this day every year, I think back to where I was and who I was with. A high school student at a boarding school where many friends had parents who worked in the World Trade Center and surrounding buildings in NYC. My very special Grandmother and her husband living in Greenwich Village, watched the attacks from their living room window. This week, we remember this historical event and talk about how meeting suffering is necessary for compassion.
At the time, everything felt surreal and chaotic. I didn’t know how to process what I was seeing and surely did not know what I was feeling. I felt disconnected as I watched the frenzy of people around me on their phones and watching the television in our dorm. As I reflect back as an adult, I realize that I was avoiding the real terror and pain that was inside of me. I had become a master avoider of pain. A defense mechanism too many of us know well.
The first time I truly met my feelings about what happened on that day 22 years ago, I was visiting the memorial and museum during a work trip. I was in my early 30’s. As I walked down the stairs into the museum and saw the steel posts underground that once held up the building, I immediately welled up with tears. Until that moment, I don’t believe I ever cried about what happened. And for those who know me well, I am certainly someone who wears my heart on my sleeve. I had never allowed myself to face what happened in a real way. I kept it in my mind like a nightmare, something that wasn’t close enough to touch. But when I faced the reality of what happened, I couldn’t help feel the pain and suffering that happened to so many people on that day.
Since then, I have spent more time each year hearing the stories of the people who were and are impacted more directly by these attacks. I listen to their pain, their loss, and their hope. I allow myself to feel the pain of those who were right there. This process is hard and it hurts, but strangely enough, it gives me a sense of connection and then relief. I am building a new muscle to meet discomfort because I realize the more I can feel it, the less I fear it and the more relief I find. I see that the only way to move past the most difficult experiences, and more forward.