Psychologist Laments Lackluster 9/11 Memorials


I did see a fellow psychologist responder, Dr. Sharon Brennan; just last month when we both attended the annual convention in Orlando of the American Psychological Association, and spent a respite hour together to watch dolphins and flamingos at Sea World. I feel a deep affinity with her for having shared those days together right after 9/11, but also sad that we rarely see each other and don't really talk about what happened 10 years ago, although I want to.

Affirming optimism.

Community memorials emphasize that a traumatic event is not just a personal tragedy but a shared experience. Public affirmations (e.g., "We will heal") encourage optimism. People who came together at the memorial walls set up after 9/11, with photos of the lost loved ones, not only cried but hugged each other, offering words of hope for the future.

Dispelling intolerance.

Community events bring people together of diverse backgrounds on equal ground. A pervasive spirit after 9/11, when so many people died from different countries, prevailed of less intolerance and hatred towards "the other"... despite some anti-Muslim prejudice that emerged and protests two years ago surrounding the Muslim Community Center. For example, while sitting on the set of an MSNBC TV program as a guest commentator watching the 2011 post-tornado memorial in Joplin Missouri, I was moved by the speakers' emphasis on the sense of togetherness. For example, Reverend Aaron Brown addressed the audience as "Friends, neighbors, brothers and sisters" and used the word us, reminding the assembly to grieve together and to "love thy neighbor."

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, while I stood on the balcony of the World Financial Center being interviewed by the Arabic television network Alhurra-TV, I was surrounded by media outlets from around the world, clearly proving that the world was watching and united.

In the spirit of the motto of 9/11- "We Will Not Forget" -- an American TV network, RLTV, even aired an hour special -- which I co-hosted -- to remember the all-too-often overshadowed United Flight 93 that went down over Shanksville, Pennsylvania (not to mention the American Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon).

Recognizing different styles.

People have different styles dealing with disaster and loss. Some psychological experts insist, accurately, that some people can be re-traumatized by recounting their traumatic experiences. On the other hand, others (like me) feel better reviewing the experience, especially with those who understand and care. Of course, psychological processing with professional help can be even more healing for some.

This Tuesday, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, there will be a Memorial at Ground Zero in New York City, with the annual solemn reading of the names of the deceased.

But a search on the Internet indicates a scarcity of related events.

I'm honored to be participating in a memorial in Rockland County, NY at the Town Hall in Orangeburg. I was referred to the organizer, Suzanne Barclay, by my friend, Gary Sussman, director of the Vytlacil, Rockland County campus of the Art Students League of New York, with whom I collaborated on a project about recovery from the Japanese tsunami/earthquake last April.

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