ATOP of Meaningfulworld 9/11 Reflections
call 218-339-2699 at 9:15 AM on Sept 11For a Silent Meditation, Reflections, and Free Counselling
Dr Ani Kalayjian and Rebecca Schaffner
When the towers of the World Trade Centre in New York were unexpectedly attacked and when the Pentagon in Washington D.C. was threatened to be suddenly hit by hijacked airplanes on September 11, 2001, coming from both the Newark International Airport and Boston Airport, the world was in shock. Mothers lost their sons, daughters, and husbands, husbands lost their wives, businesses lost their employees and the United States as well as its’ economic partners experienced a chaos; a traumatic experience that even after 10 years affects the mental health of people around the world. The Association for Trauma Outreach and Prevention (ATOP) of Meaningfulworld is inviting people to a silent meditation on Sunday Sept 11, at 8:45-9:15 followed by a discussion, reflections and lessons learned. A teleconference phone line and free counselling session will be directed by Dr. Kalayjian, the founder and president of ATOP, kindly dial the phone number 218-339-2699 and enter the access code 813707. Dr Kalayjian has conducted numerous training programs and healing circles, immediately after the 9/11 attacks, which took place at Fordham University and ATOP has also worked at ground zero with police officers, and business employees impacted directly by the atrocities. Although many negative feelings were experienced, such as anger, fear, frustration, revenge, immediately after the attacks, after processing one’s feelings, more compassionate and empathic feelings emerged, such as love and forgiveness. According to Dr Kalayjian, “Forgiveness is shifting from the automatic ego reaction (anger/self-protection, hurting back the other), to a non-reactive conscious response of empathy and compassion; considering that the other person is ALSO a human being.” (Dr Kalayjian, 2010 Forgiveness & Reconciliation, Springer Publishing).
ATOP Meaningfulworld has compiled reflections of officers and interns who were happy to share their personal experiences of this human-made disaster. Through reading their very compelling accounts, you may find that social support and positive coping strategies such as stress relieving activities, group and individual therapy or a hobby such as art and a physical release through dance can be a very effective method to managing traumatic events.
Dr Kalayjian shares “I was Chairing the United Nations DPI/NGO Annual Conference, while on the podium actually chairing a meeting, received a message that one of the towers were hit by an airplane, but that we should continue with our agenda. About 10 minutes into our meeting, we received another message to evacuate the auditorium in 5 min, since the attackers will target the UN they assumed. Although I have travelled to numerous countries in active war and other violent conflicts, this was the most difficult position I was in, since I was responsible to evacuate over 3,500 international delegates from over 60 countries. I announced that all airports are closed, all the bridges and tunnels were also closed; that they have to evacuate immediately out of the UN. Delegates were crying, anxious and in fear, as they didn’t have resources, didn’t know where to go? They were perplexed saying “We left our war torn countries thinking that NY is safe?” I spent the entire morning helping groups and individuals head to their destinations. I housed many guests from California who had nowhere to go, their hotels could not extend their reservations due to lack of space. I worked 24/7 reaching out to my colleagues, family and friends to make sure all were fine. We went to ground zero to work with fire fighters, police officers, and other volunteers. Organized and held a memorial at Fordham University, and resumed the conference at the UN two days later, to have a platform for people to express their feelings, achieve closure, and remember those who perished. The entire scene was surreal, people were covered by heavy white dust and debris and they looked like they were in a war. I could not believe my eyes that our security would let such a disaster take place. Everything is meaningful, and nothing is an accident, therefore, I began reflecting on the meaning of these attacks. We then followed up by a research study and looked at the meaning-making post attacks. People had many positive lessons, such as celebrating differences instead of fearing, expressing one’s love and positive emotions daily to all those we love, learning about other cultures, taking good care of ourselves, etc. Ten years later, I feel we collectively suffer from amnesia, we have forgotten many of the lessons we said we learned, and that we need to be mindful and in the moment so that we remember always the positive lessons learned, and grow and integrate our new meaning. We at ATOP have been vigilant assisting many countries in conflict such as Sierra Leone, DR Congo, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, and Armenia. We work locally in our monthly Humanitarian Psychosocial Rehabilitation certificate programs, as well as globally through our Humanitarian Mental Health Missions.
Katherine Kaze, ATOP’s United Nations Intern shares her story with us: “I was in school at the time. (5th grade). Everything was progressing normally, as the teachers did not know yet. Without explanation, I was taken out of class and driven home by my neighbour. At first I was very confused, because she wouldn’t tell me anything either. I arrived home to find my mother sitting in front of the burning image of the towers on the television, quietly crying. My father worked at the trade towers, and she had not heard from him since that morning. Even worse, he worked on a floor close to where the plane had hit. From my perspective, it was all very surreal. I didn’t want to believe I would never have a father again, just like that. I left her there, and went to another room of the apartment. I was quiet. I tried imagining continuing to grow up without my dad. I cried a little bit, but it didn’t feel right. To my relief, around 7 pm my father finally stepped through the door, covered in sweat and some dirt. I remembered that he had left late for work that morning because he had driven me to school late.
Since I was about 5, I haven’t had the best relationship with my father, but on that day I was reminded never to take him for granted. I may have never told him, but he has inspired me to always strive for what I want. To see him making sarcastic remarks there in the doorway about his trip home suddenly made the whole ordeal humorous, if only for a small moment. 9/11 reminded me to let those close to you know how important they are, and as often as possible, because you never know the future has in store.”
Torkom Movsesiyan, ATOP’s Research, Grants and Events Intern remembered that he “came to NYC two weeks before 9/11 and on the day of 9/11 I was on my way to take the N train from Queens Borough plaza heading to Manhattan but couldn’t make it to Manhattan.” He mentioned that no one knew exactly what happened but that some people thought it would be the “end of the world” while others in his proximity would state that Americans deserved this tragedy! Torkom recounts that in 10 years, the immigration law as a result of the event has changed and that the relationship between the East and West has unfortunately suffered and strained.
Michelle Gonen, ATOP’s Clinical intern stated that “I was in high school in my gym class when we first got the news. I was in shock and awe when I heard about the planes crashing into the Twin Towers. Watching the towers collapse in front of the television screen felt unreal, as I thought it was a horror movie, not reality. The event has changed me over the last 10 years in that I became much more cognizant of terrorism and its future possible attacks in the U.S. (especially NYC). I learned that there are a lot more organized terrorist groups/individuals around the world. The way people came together after such a tragedy was remarkable and I guess despite all the evil in the world there are amazing, ordinary people who do extraordinary things for one another.”
Karin Soweid, ATOP’s Research Intern was especially happy to share her reflections on 9/11 with us: “ The moment that 9/11 happened, I was working in an office just blocks away from the White House in Washington, DC. We were dismissed from the office when the tragedy struck the Pentagon and being that the streets were clogged with cars and the metro was closed, many of us walked home. I remember walking home, feeling extremely numb, seeing smoke rising from the direction of the Pentagon. I walked all the way home to my apartment in Arlington and left my TV on at all times. The air space became quite busy with aircraft flying by at all hours. It felt like an environment preparing for war. At the time, I was working for a corporation but was actively in search for international employment. I was a master’s degree holder in International Administration and when I heard the commonly uttered phrase, “you are either for us or against us”, I became determined to learn who ‘they’ were. It was fate that I got a job working for an organization I had been a longtime volunteer for that placed me as a regional consultant in Amman, Jordan. This opportunity provided the context for extensive travel and work through East Africa and the Middle East. Two years later, I turned another professional chapter in the Middle East by going to work for a multinational company based in Lebanon. It was there I met my husband, a bit by chance in that he was living and working in the US at the time. Most find it ironic that I was the American living and working in Lebanon and he was Lebanese living and working in the US and we met in Lebanon. We started our first chapter of marriage in Lebanon and passed some difficult times in the country’s recent history; including war and internal conflict. We returned to the US a little over 2 years ago. It has been quite a journey and I have had time through my doctoral work to realize how much my experiences have been internalized and shape my personal and professional path. I am preparing to launch a consulting initiative that will see to our relocation to the Middle East. I am looking forward to being a part of contributing to a sustainable difference for women in the Middle East workforce. In a nutshell, my life was transformed by 9/11 both personally and professionally. I learned who ‘they’ are in a real, authentic context through my travel, work and being invited into the homes of many Arabic families in the Middle East. With great opportunity comes great responsibility and I feel it sometimes places me in the role of cultural ambassador which is not something many are receptive to in a post 9/11 environment.”
Georgiana Sofleta, ATOP’s Grant and Training intern, recounts that she was “…sitting in [her] apartment in Columbus, OH and frantically [tried] to understand what just happened…” She was afraid that her friends in NYC were affected by the attack and could not reach them. Georgiana mentioned that “The more I tried to comprehend it, the more it seemed incomprehensible. We live in the United States of America, how could this happen? Did they not foresee it? So much advancement and technology and yet it all seemed to lead to corruption…. the death toll and the devastation that will forever change NYC and the world.” She also shared her personal experience on how the 9/11 event has changed her in 10 years. “Having lived in NYC 10 years before 9/11 and the coming back in 2010, I saw so many differences. Being a Romanian immigrant, I remember receiving certain treatment from majority culture and from other minorities as well. The whole country seemed to have united against all Muslims, Middle Easterners and Asian – Indian/Afghani. All of a sudden my friends could not go out of the house without being labelled terrorists or attacked. The mass anti-Islam hysteria that spread was unbelievable and 10 years later, I can still see it in the airports and the streets of NYC. The Muslim, the Middle Eastern and Indian communities suffered tremendously as a result of 9/11 all for crimes some extremists committed. It will take generations for the stigma and bias to dissipate, if it ever will… As a counselling psychologist, I felt that I could help, that I will be needed and want to learn how to help those that have gone through it and future events that may occur. Life is short, we are all the same sharing one goal to live a better life, be a good human being and contribute to society…”
J. Wesley Beeks, Jr, ATOP’s Social Networking Intern wrote: “When the 911 event happened I was scheduled to work as a production assistant on a television show. I was originally to have that final interview at 8:30 am and the studio was located one block from the Twin Towers. The day before I decided to reschedule the time to the afternoon as something in me urged me to do so. I awoke that day to the cries and shock of the tower being hit by one plane and then another one. I had a god sister who is a chef and did her apprenticeship at the restaurant on top of the tower. She did not go that day as we both decided to reschedule. I was in disbelief at what happened and what was still to come. I had friends and family who worked at Port Authority in the vicinity. The phone lines were jammed and little information got through. Using a secondary network I was able to relay information on who was okay. Our neighbours all worked together to share information and much needed comfort. Everyone I knew was well and survived. My god sister did experience trauma as she walked over the bridge over the slew of dead bodies and appendages that the news did not want to cover. She had trouble sleeping for weeks and I was able to convince her to see a therapist. After ten years have passed I have been aware of the greater need for humanity as a collective to reach out to one another. Kindness was increased a thousand fold and people actually stopped to speak to one another. It was as if the society was reconnected and the technology took a backseat to humanity and we embraced one another again. Strangers became less distant and family members not spoken to in years reconnected. This time has increased my awareness that mental health is a primary concern in our society. The trauma experienced by those directly in 911 opened other repressed trauma and the flood gates were pouring out. I counselled more actively and looked within the dark parameters of myself and found that the simple acknowledgement of this was profound. My relationships changed. What was not functional and healthy I removed and only kept what was substantial in my life. Neighbourhoods became smaller and less distant by class, ethnicity, economics and status replaced by general awareness and compassion. Faith was tested and what endured was the
foundation of love, good character, simplicity, and compassion. I am thankful that I listened to my inner voice and did not go at the original time; doing so would have had a different ending. Embracing the compassion and duty of our fellow civil servants was astounding as their stories traced how fundamental it is to serve with devotion, duty and simple caring.
Yes after ten years the humanity remains and there is less disconnect and profound acceptance that mental health has to be ingrained in our society. I am thankful that my friends and family were protected and we remain stronger today. In summation my family extended past blood relations to those who lost family members and we became family. We are connected by spirit and our sense of humanity.”
Jennifer De Mucci, Vice President of ATOP Meaningfulworld was also very happy to tell us her reflections on the 9/11 event. “On the morning of September 11, 2011, I was a sophomore in college in Pennsylvania, miles away from my home in NYC. When I glanced at the screen, I noticed the news was showing what at the time many believed to be an accident: the first plane had hit Tower 1. I too, thought that this was a freak accident, as like most Americans I could not imagine a terrorist attack occurring in the US… When I returned back from class, I overheard students talking in the hallway that another plane had hit. At this time I knew that something far more terrible had happened. I rushed into my room to see my roommate with her eyes glued to the TV where the news was replaying the second plane attack. I can remember feeling so many different emotions as I saw the replay of a play flying directly into the second tower, When that plane hit, the smoke and flames burst from the building I could not help but think of those poor people inside who were on those floors and the panic and horror that was being felt inside that building. I remember thinking that this couldn’t really be happening, it all looked like a scene out of a horror movie… my helplessness and fear multiplied…there was still denial as well, that everything would be remedied quickly; the rescue teams would get people evacuated from those floors that had not been directly hit and the fire-fighters would be able to quench the flames. It just wasn’t going to happen that these massive twin buildings would no longer be standing; everything would be OK… I felt that my home and my city had been destroyed and my feelings of helplessness quickly turned to anger towards whoever had done this…pre-911 versus post 911 mentality of heightened security, distrust of others, and a feeling of vulnerability. Nonetheless, the post 911 world has also heightened our sense of community and those who have reached out to strangers to help on that day in spite of the trauma…. Seeing each other as brothers and sisters sharing this world together and being grateful for each moment is the key to peace within humanity and a future devoid of pain and suffering.”
The Association of Trauma Outreach and Prevention (ATOP) of Meaningfulworld would like to thank everyone who has shared their very personal, traumatic memories and post-trauma growth!
If you are, or know someone who has been affected by the 9/11 attack and are still suffering please call us on Sunday 9/11 at 9:15 AM after our silent meditation as indicated above and/or visit our website at www.meaningfulworld.com for more information or contact trauma expert Dr. Kalayjian for assistance in discovery of a new meaning. You may also be interested in our Humanitarian Outreach and Disaster Relief training programs to become further involved in helping those in need and while you reflect on 9/11, please remember “When one helps another, BOTH become stronger;” and that “Shared sorrow is half sorrow, while shared joy is double joy!”