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20 Years Later, Our Grieving Continues

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

Brown brick building with message "How Are You, Really?"
Photo by Finn on Unsplash (cropped)

It’s September 12, 2021. As a country we are as divided now as we were united 20 years ago. What will it take for us to realize those aspects of living our best lives that we have in common. What will it take for us to focus on creating opportunities for all of us to thrive instead of thinking up unnecessary ways to restrict, penalize and deprive. As much as it seems hopeless that we as a nation will sort out our divisiveness, I must remain hopeful. Even in the face of irrational conspiracies, blind allegiance to political positioning and a rabid devotion to ideology, I remain hopeful that our true human connectedness will burn away the clouds of enmity and brighten the darkest parts of our grieving hearts.

We are a grieving nation. Consider how much we’ve lost over the years and how we’ve individualized that loss. 20 years ago, as a nation, we experienced 9/11, a loss unlike any other in recent memory. Add to that disasters like Katrina, the great recession, yearly hurricane events, flooding, fires, injustices which led to the founding of Black Lives Matter and most recently Covid 19. With a 24 hour news cycle, if we are not careful, we are bombarded with images and stories about loss, devastation and death over and over again. For many, these losses were/are more personal than for others. In what ways have we internalized the losses, in what ways have we explained the losses, in what ways have we vindicated the losses, in what ways have we learned from the losses, in what ways are we still grieving from the losses.

In what ways have the stories we’ve told ourselves about our 9/11 losses changed how we view each other. Terrorists took advantage of our open and relatively trusting society and as a result, parts of our society have closed along with parts of our hearts. Look around, how much do you “other” people who don’t act, think and love exactly like you. We as a nation set out to kill those responsible for taking away the societal trust we enjoyed up till September 11, 2001. To sell the idea of going to war, we were indoctrinated with the idea that we = good and they = evil. If you are not for us, you are against us. If you don’t believe like we believe then you don’t belong here and you don’t deserve our trust. It did not take much for that indoctrination to take hold and be applied to other Americans. Americans who love the country as much as we do. Americans who work hard, vote and pay taxes as much as we do. Americans who sacrificed and who’s ancestors sacrificed to insure that we live up to the promise of America. We gave in to the fear of THE other and became a slave to the fear of EACH other. He who is most scared is most fragile.

Grief combined with fear is a very volatile combination. If you experience a loss and are afraid that conditions are ripe for even more loss to come your way, it can paralyze you or activate you into aggressive defensive action and everything in between depending upon how equipped you are to deal with it. Loss and grief are scattered throughout our mortal lifetime and we all come face to face with fear but what made losses of 9/11 so transformative is the societal trust that was shattered so spectacularly on American soil.

Part of grieving is a deep desire to understand why and how the loss happened. The stories we told ourselves about 9/11 individually and as a nation led us into uncharted territory. We began to wonder who we could trust. There are still millions of people who believe 9/11 was an inside job planned and directed by the "Military Industrial Complex". We didn’t just go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan to avenge for our loss, over time, we weaponized our patriotism against each other. Slowly, we became convinced that “our” individual idea of America was the one worth fighting for and the fear of losing what “we” and those like us believe America stands for has been manipulated and continues to be manipulated by those more interested in power than patriotism and those more concerned with self than society. Our collective national grief compounded by the grief from our assorted individual losses combined with algorithmically personalized fears have made us fragile, fretful and fragmented as we defend “our” idea of freedom.

We need therapy!

We have become so vigilant about our rights of free speech that we created laws that declare money and the way we spend it to be an expression of those rights. If you don’t have much money then relative to the wealthy, you have fewer rights. The more rights you have, the more power you have. All of us realize that money = power. The more money you have the more you can express your rights to free speech. The farther and wider you can express your world view, the more people you can expose your world view to and for those people whose views align with yours, the more they may look to you as their group therapist, whether they would ever consciously admit it or not. There is comfort in being told what you want to hear. Facts don't matter as much as the comfort of knowing you are not alone in how you see the world. Real therapy, helps us to see our blind spots and if practiced ethically and effectively, leads to healing and growth. The mass manipulation occurring via social media by influencers, politicians, corporations and con-men is not the therapy we need but it’s the therapy we’re happy to continue receiving. Until we recognize being told what we want to hear is NOT therapy and come face to face with our delusions about what America is and/or should be, we, as divided Americans who increasingly interact online, will continue to pick-a-side and “like by like” be lulled into societal suicide. I am not a therapist but even I know that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

Obviously, divisions have existed since the birth of this country. Hate, white supremacy, genocide, nationalism and wealth inequality are woven into the fabric of America as much as independence, freedom, ingenuity, manifest destiny and opportunity. Delusions of grandeur serve men in the short term and nations too. Reality has a way of forcing us to experience the ramifications of our shortcomings, flaws and arrogance-guided ambitions. When we believe "our' America is good and "their" America is evil and we refuse to speak with them, be friends with them or even walk in their proverbial shoes to see things from their perspective, we have drifted out of patriotism into hatriotism.

I’m not sure how you provide therapy to a nation but America and Americans need help to guide us toward the healing we desperately need. Here’s a place to start as you seek healing from your own grief.

1 hand reaching down for another
Photo by Youssef Naddam on Unsplash

*Updated 9/13/21 to correct the link to grief resources and the spelling of Iraq

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