Turning Straw Into Gold

Life through a Buddhist lens

The Forgotten Victims of September 11, 2001

9/11: The suffering went deeper than we saw on the news.

This is based on a piece I wrote two years ago.

 

On Saturday, September 15th, 2001, two young family friends were set to be married. The wedding had been months in the planning. The guest list was long. If you’ve ever helped to put on a traditional wedding with all the trimmings, you know how much work is involved (the venue rental, the caterers, the wedding cake, the florist, the band, the tux rentals, the last-minute dress fittings…). You also know how the pace quickens and the excitement mounts as the day approaches. 

By Wednesday, September 12th, they wondered if they should call it off. Who would want to come and, if they did come, who would be in a celebratory mood?

They did get married on September 15th, but I’m told there was a somberness to the occasion (illness kept me from attending). They now have three children and are about to celebrate their twelfth wedding anniversary. I’ve never forgotten what a difficult time those five days in September of 2001 were for them.

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On this twelfth anniversary of that horrific Tuesday in September, I’ve been reflecting on the bride and groom’s experience. It led me to think of the thousands of people who faced grieving and other challenges that were not apparent to everyone:

The family whose father was in a Lower Manhattan hospital on 9/11, scheduled to begin chemotherapy for a brain tumor—a potentially life-saving procedure that had to be postponed for a week.

The parents in the mid-west, awaiting a kidney transplant for their daughter, an operation that, with air transportation grounded, couldn’t be performed because the vital organ didn’t arrive.

The non-Americans who died on that day. Because the attacks took place on U.S. soil, it’s often reported as having resulted in the deaths of over 3,100 Americans. Although the vast majority of those who died were American, more than 90 other countries lost citizens in the attacks. The countries with the highest losses were the United Kingdom, the Dominican Republic, and India.

The thousands of families who couldn’t go through the normal grieving process when their loved ones—a mother, a father, a son, a daughter—died on 9/11 or the days that followed of causes unrelated to the terrorist attack.

The thousands of babies born on 9/11 or the days that followed whose parents struggled to put aside the traumatic images of that Tuesday so they could try to feel joy as they held their newborns for the first time.

On this twelfth anniversary, my heart goes out to the 9/11 Families—a group that includes the loved ones of those on the airplanes, those in the buildings, and those who gave their lives trying to save them; the first responders who didn’t die but were permanently disabled as a result of their heroic efforts—and their loved ones; the thousands of Ground Zero workers who have developed life-threatening health problems as a result of tirelessly sifting through the toxic rubble to find survivors…and then bodies—and the loved ones of those workers.

And I’m also thinking of the forgotten victims of 9/11.

All of us are looking for answers to the question of what to do about intolerance and hatred in the world. When I begin to feel helpless…and hopeless, I remind myself that change must begin with each individual. So I look at my own heart and ask if I’m being as kind and helpful as I can to the people in my life. Call it “think globally, act locally” if you like, but I’m trying to get at something deeper. I believe that each of us has to embody the change we wish to see in the world. Drop by drop, the bucket is filled.

© 2013 Toni Bernhard www.tonibernhard.com

Thank you for reading my work. My most recent book is titled How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow.

I'm also the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers

Using the envelope icon, you can email this piece to others. You can also subscribe to my blog (see the choices below my picture). I’m active on FacebookPinterest, and (to a lesser extent) Twitter.

Toni Bernhard, J.D., is a former law professor at University of California at Davis. She wrote the award-winning How to Be Sick and, recently, How to Wake Up.

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