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The Future of 9-1-1
By Tony Candela
September 12, 2022
Yesterday as I write, was the 21st anniversary of the catastrophe that took place in this country on September 11, 2001. On that morning, hi-jacked airliners crashed into each of the two tallest towers of the World Trade Centers in New York City. Another crashed into a wing of the Pentagon. Still a fourth, destined either for the Capitol Building or the White House, crashed into the ground in Pennsylvania, guided there by gutsy passengers who broke into the cockpit. It left a deep crater which, as is the ground beneath the Trade Centers, a cemetery. Nearly 2300 people died in New York and hundreds mor died in the two other events. Every year since then there have been elaborate memorial services on the 11th of September. I write today to ask what should be the future of these events? In my thinking, it is time to scale them back and in doing so, begin a healthy letting go of the trauma we incurred and seem to cling to. Due diligence against future attacks is good, but healthy and warm memories of lost loved-ones, without the trauma, are better.
In my view, failure to scale back on the extent and intensity of the memorializing continues the trauma and does not permit the lost ones to truly rest in peace. Reduction in the attention paid to 9-1-1 will help those who remain behind to heal. Moreover, there is an entire generation that has grown up who only know 9-1-1 via stories told and the history books. There is no need to damage them emotionally with the continual re-living of our trauma.
The Sunday CBS news magazine “60 Minutes” did one of the most thorough reviews of the moment-by-moment events of the World Trade Center disaster I’ve ever seen. I thought I knew a lot, but I learned more. There are always new facts to uncover and perspectives that emerge with the passage of time, so one should not be surprised to learn new things. For example, did you know that the first New York City firefighter to die on 9-1-1 was hit by a person who had jumped from the top of one of the towers. Because he knew the fire roiling below him was impenetrable, he and so many others took off their hats, dived from 1100 feet above the ground, began flailing on the way down losing shoes and other clothing that came to rest shortly after they did. If this example does not illustrate the trauma that we need to let go of, I further contend that reliving the radio calls of fire-fighters or the phone recordings of frantic pleas for help from civilians trapped on the higher floors of the towers or showing like they did over and over again 21 years ago the flames shooting out the side of the Towers after the planes impaled themselves in the buildings only serves to re-traumatize us even more. We know what happened. It is high-time we tuck it away.
While there are personal-emotional reasons why those who lost friends or loved-ones remember the events the way they do, I believe there are more insidious political motivations to keep the heavy-duty memorializing going on.
Before going there, allow me to describe the 79th Pearl Harbor Memorial Day ceremony, done virtually because of the pandemic. It is a military memorial as you will understand. There are opening remarks from the master of ceremonies, a Navy Lt. Commander; a moment of silence attended by the ringing of the ship’s bell of the sunken USS Arizona, and a missing-man fly over by fighter planes. The national anthem and Hawaii state song are sung, followed by honors from a passing ship to Veterans, those who died, and the Arizona and Utah, the two permanently sunken destroyers. A religious invocation is followed by speeches reminding us of what happened on December 7, including one by a Veteran of that day. Dignitaries are welcomed and so on. One leaves the ceremony, even a virtual one, with tears in one’s eyes and deep remembrance and gratitude for service rendered. This is how the 9-1-1 memorial should evolve.
There is a lot of survivor’s guilt to go along with the feelings of loss. Even I who was 2900 miles away in Berkeley, CA when just after 6am Pacific time I first heard about the planes hitting the Towers, had for a few years some survivor’s guilt. My guilt came from not being in my native New York City on or shortly after that day, not to be traumatized, but to help those who were. I had training in PTSD therapy as a Psychology doctoral student. Somehow, I knew that the words “the world will never be the same again” did not have to be as apocalyptic as the politicians and military men made them out to be. I also knew that there was not as much reason for continued fear as the fear-mongers programmed into the American people. I wanted to help keep everyone just a little calmer.
Those whose loved-ones and friends died on 9-1-1 have the unenviable task of putting thoughts of “why did I survive” (and of course their losses) into perspective. Twenty-one years later, these thoughts and feelings need to be placed into a comfortable and livable niche within their psyches. I hope the first signs of this happening are symbolized by the relatives who chose not to attend the ceremony this year, perhaps in an effort to keep the trauma in its place.
As for the politicians, I can only ask that they participate in healing, not disguised bravado and maybe even some war-mongering. The bluster of President Bush when he said we will hunt down the perpetrator Osama Bin Laden and the 21 year long war in Afghanistan that ensued should be forever memorialized along with remembrances of the tragedy of 9-1-1. Today there are politicians who are so afraid of their shadows that they can do little more than say whatever it takes to survive the next election and, for those on the right, not anger Donald Trump. How about a little forward thinking and some courage from you?
It is time for more healing. First, let’s finally dispense with the reading of the names of the 9-1-1 dead. They are forever recorded at the Memorial sites and remembered both in the hearts and minds of all of us. At the World Trade Center memorial, the fountain that sits above the ground that contains the unrecovered remains of those who crashed to the Earth with the Towers that fateful day brings a sense of peace to all who stand before it.
Let’s begin the process of reducing the time and energy devoted to the 9-1-1 memorial ceremony and keep the faith with efforts into helping those who survived that day, both through better healthcare for the first-responders and in various forms of healing and strengthening comfort for the friends and families left behind. Finally, let’s not go out of our way to traumatize those who did not live through that day. They need to understand the event and its meaning, but not be psychologically damaged by it.
Anthony R. Candela, Author
Saying aloud what should not remain silent.
Stand Up Or Sit Out: Memories and Musings Of a Blind Wrestler, Runner, and All-around Regular Guy
A memoir about life lessons learned, especially through sports
Vision Dreams: A Parable
A sci-fi novella about how a dysfunctional society forces people to go to extremes, including four blind people who seek out artificial vision.
Christian Faith Publishing, 2019
Tony Candela has worked as a Rehabilitation Counselor, supervisor, manager consultant and administrator for more than 40 years in the field of blindness and visual impairment. His work has included promoting literacy and employment of blind persons and a special interest in enhancing the career preparation of blind persons who wish to work in the computer science field. He is a “retired” athlete, loves movies, sports, reading, writing, and music, including dabbling in guitar.
Learn more about Tony and buy his books at: https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B08MT8WQ42
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