Wednesday, September 11, 2013

STOIC IN SORROW



SIMMERING WITHIN
NY DAILY NEWS FRONT PAGE IN WINDSHIELD OF FDNY TRUCK


BroodingCynyx Special Commentary



TAGS: September 11, 2013, September 11, 2001, World Trade Center WTC,

Twin Towers, Innocent Victims, Families of Victims, Survivors,

MOS FDNY, NYPD, PAPD,

Coping with Grief and Anger, Kubler-Ross Model




(Wednesday September 11, 2013, Freedom Tower, WTC Plaza)  They usually meet once a month out on Long Island where they reside.  Today they made their way west on the Long Island Expressway and into Lower Manhattan for the memorial service held on this site. They were all acquainted with each other but their friendships have grown deeper and more sustaining over the last 12 years.  They were each happily married to a husband who worked for The City – FDNY, NYPD – or The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PAPD) and died here on September 11 001.  Suddenly, shockingly widowed they had little time to grieve sufficiently or to mourn their loss in such a way that they might have reached some acceptance.  But, there were children to raise and nurture, bills to pay, obligations to be met, as well as the hundreds of simple commonplace items and errands parents today must juggle.

Some of these women marked the passing of time not only by this particular date but in the faces of their children many of whom were little more than toddlers 12 years ago.  Amongst themselves their share stories of the post 9-11-01 lives they’ve lead and how they have managed challenges large and small.  It is only after they’ve shared what they had to that they began sharing what they perhaps need to: anger.  They express a feverish anger that has not been squelched with time.

Not many of those directly affected by the tragic events of 12 years ago today speak about their anger but, let there be no mistake, it is present, absolutely present and profoundly potent.  Everyone who lost a spouse, parent, child, lover, cousin, or close friend has the right to be angry just as do those who survived the horrors of that day.  But the anger so many feel is not for public consumption.  The deaths of their loved ones were as dramatically spectacular on live television as they were terrifyingly mind-numbing.  The dramas of that day played out around the globe in hi-def Technicolor.  This was a public event for all to witness aside from the disproportionally few who actually suffered a loss here. 

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Scattered throughout the NYC Metropolitan area are dozens of private clubs whose members are current or former Members of Service (MOS) of the FDNY, NYPD and PAPD.  Some of these establishments have been active for decades; still others are newer locations to visit with colleagues, drink a beer or two, shoot pool and play cards.  From the towns in Nassau County on Long Island up to Orange, Rockland and Westchester counties these private venues thrive since most MOS move as far from NYC as they can afford to.  So there is a large Cop and Fireman population on the periphery of The City. 

There is one club that has been in existence since the mid 1960’s when purchasing a small building in Westchester County was very affordable.  This was before the march of development yielded to suburbia.  This club’s members are all current or retired MOS of FDNY.  There is a nickel and dime poker game every afternoon, satellite TV perpetually tuned to sports, and a  pool table next to a small wet bar.  Some of the members have known each other since childhood; others met on the job.  All of the retired members have cheated death on more than one occasion.  Often their talk is about the health and medical issues they contend with today.  The common etiology for some of their most prominent ailments is the fact that they were Fire Fighters in NYC.  Typically the conversation around the card table and at the tiny bar is about doctors, medications, old injuries and new pains. But not today.

Today for these men is a sacred time where they pay honor to all those who were killed on this day 12 years ago and in particular for the Members of Service of FDNY who perished.  The FDNY is an extremely close-knit community and, active or retired these men regard each other with the deepest respect and call them brothers.  Perhaps it is the nature of urban firefighting, the 24 hour shifts, living, working, eating, and sleeping together in such close quarters as a New York City firehouse is for such long stretches at a time that creates the lifelong bond they share.  That bond was severely tested and tried when 343 MOS from FDNY were killed at the World Trade Center.  For a total force of 11,000 the loss of 343 was not only tragic it was an affront, an assault on their very Department.  There was not to be any card game today; the green felt on the pool table would see no action.    No, not much action there today but a great deal of fury and unabashed anger.

No one really speaks about the anger; whenever it becomes a topic of conversation it has a short life.  The anger is private just as is the grief and mourning although those two elements are better understood.  There was some facsimile of national anger in the days and weeks immediately following the terrorist attacks on our soil.  Often the anger was veiled by a cloak of ready patriotism.  In those days all the flag waving and incessant shouting of “USA…USA…USA” fed off our bumper sticker culture.  With the pseudo-arousal of this cheap brand of collective anger, the families who actually lost someone that day 12 years ago, demonstrated great restrain and resolve; they suffered their loss quietly even when as weeks ran by and they’d yet had any word that the remains of their loved one had been identified. 

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The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the City of New York (OCMENYC) still houses almost 22,000 “biologics”, a nice euphemism for human remains collected after the Twin Towers collapsed into that smoky smoldering man made hell.  Despite on again off again efforts by the OCME to identify these remains via sophisticated DNA analysis, hundreds of the deceased have yet to be positively identified.  The relatives of these unidentified souls are very angry.  They were not granted the opportunity to bury or cremate the remains of their loved ones and thus, although the word sounds too trite, too dismissive, they were not permitted “closure”.

The raw emotion of anger was initially overshadowed by the sheer magnitude of the event, the number of the deceased, as well as by shock, grief, and mourning.  A common sentiment in those last few months of 2001 was that there would be ample to for anger; that in some way the government that had failed us so egregiously, so monstrously, would avenge the losses.  The government did in fact make good on that until it dropped the ball once again and stood by allowing Osama bin Laden to slip into Pakistan after routing his fighters and the Taliban in a matter of weeks.  President Bush and Vice President Cheney along with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had shifted their focus towards waging a war of choice in Iraq.  This angered many across the country but in particular those in the NYC Metro area.  We had unfinished business in Afghanistan and sadly it remains unfinished 12 years on.

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In the late 1960’s the Swedish-American psychiatrist Dr. Elisabeth Kulber-Ross identified what she called The Five Stages of Grief.  According to her clinical and theoretical work she saw patients and non-patients alike who had recently suffered a great loss with her focus on death.  What is now referred to as The Kubler-Ross Model, the five emotional stages of grief are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Just as the impact of those two fully fueled 747’s shook the fire resistant foam from the structural steel of the Twin Towers, the order of the Kubler-Ross model was rendered null and void for the survivors and the families of those who’d been killed.  The emotional stages were shuffled and, for families of the missing in the immediate aftermath of the collapse here there was a great deal of denial and bargaining.  Who among us can ever forget the makeshift bulletin boards all over Manhattan filled with the posted photographs of the missing. As 2001 ebbed away depression and acceptance fell upon the City like a heavy wet blanket.

The emotion of anger, placed second in the Kubler-Ross model, was present but simmering, not yet at a full boil.  It would boil over as we learned more and more of the details of how badly our government acted in its primary duty of protecting us from foreign entities.  All the details have been voluminously documented and with each new revelation the anger has intensified.

But what good is anger?  How does it help one to cope with the unimaginable?  Anger can be an insidious invader in our minds, a malignant force that grows unabated infecting us in ways we may not even be aware of.  In the case of those impacted most intimately by September 11, 2001, anger needs to have a voice; it must be vocalized and expelled.  Now is a good time for that.  Now, 12 years on it is all right, perhaps even therapeutic, to let it out in a manner that is not dangerous to one’s self or others. 

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Death no matter its manner or method is often a surprise.  The deaths on 9-11-01 were literally out of the blue; those innocent people were the victims of a menace few, if any, had ever heard of.  Seen as the first casualties of a new war was a hollow platitude.  There was no adequate way to describe the shock and horror especially if you were watching the death of a loved one on live TV.

There has been growing anger among the residents of the WTC neighborhood and those who worked in the recovery efforts.  Apparently the government, this time in the person of the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Christine Todd Whitman, lied yet again when they proclaimed the air at The Site and surrounding environs was “safe” to breathe.  We have already seen more deaths from malignancies and complications from the toxins people were exposed to on that day and in the months thereafter.  Yes, there is plenty to be angry about, enough blame to go around but, as yet, no one who was in The Bush/Cheney Administration has stepped up, taken responsibility, or been held accountable.  The one effort launched to detail the attacks was the 9-11 Commission Report; a document so full of rubbish and so devoid of important facts that it can be easily dismissed as just another government waste of time, money, and paper.

In a very real sense 9-11-01 is still killing.  In addition to the host of respiratory and exotic malignancies claiming lives every month, there are untold numbers suffering from the silent torment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Suicide rates for retired MOS of FDNY, NYPD, and PAPD who served that dreadful day on this site increased every year after September 11 until tapering off somewhat in 2007.

Perhaps it is wrong to discuss such topics as these on this day.  Maybe some will find it in poor taste, disrespectful or cheap demagoguery.  That is of course the reader’s prerogative.  After 12 years it seemed more than appropriate to have this discussion on this day, particularly on THIS day.

Dealing with anger can be as cathartic and crying is for releasing grief and sorrow.  We just need to be ever mindful about who we are angry with.  The 19 men and their backers who perpetrated the atrocities were not representative of all Muslims just as Timothy McVeigh did not represented all disaffected, gun slinging, angry, young white American males. In our City we have a vibrant and proud Muslim community who reject the concept of Jihad as much as anyone. Our anger can be motivating, productive even, provided its energy is directed in a positive outlet.

Our City and region have moved on from that Tuesday morning 12 years ago but we have not forgotten.  We never will.  The grief we feel, the anger that fumes is ours and ours alone.  We must avoid complacency and not sacrifice security for expediency.

The magnificent tower that occupies a piece of the plot of ground that was the World Trade Center Plaza is a marvel of design, engineering, and construction.  It is a bold statement of pride and perseverance.  The museum below is an understated memorial for all the lives lost. 

Each of us carries our own private set of memories from that day; some we’ve shared, others we have chosen to keep private because to give them voice might somehow lessen their purity and sacred nature.  But let no one refrain from expressing their anger before it becomes too late.


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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

So well said. You laid it out so incredibly well. The only comment I would add is to say that there are many in the 9/11 community who have focused only on their anger and it became an end unto itself. That's destructive anger, not an anger that drives you to do constructive things or effect change. You touched on that with your mention of bumper stickers and cheap patriotism. It's almost as if we encapsulated all the anger and fear into a bunch of memes and we repeat them over and over hoping for some relief. Or- in the case of some people- it has become a means of fulfillment.I honestly don't know how we move on when we can't accept the past we so desperately want to go back and change.- DMJ

Brooding Cynyc said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your opinion and sentiments particularly your comments on unproductive misplaced anger. I think so many were reluctant to express any real anger when the grief and loss was so pervasive and unrelenting. I do not think anyone should be rabidly harboring raring anger but that it is important to vent it properly if you have it.

As always I appreciate your thoughtful comment and appreciate your readership.

Be well,

BC