One of the major skills life coaches teach is the ability to reframe. If you lose your job, can you reframe that loss into a chance to explore other exciting opportunities? If you wreck your car, instead of focusing on the damage, can you focus on the fact that you survived and see the world with newfound appreciation? Can you reframe your difficult childhood to see it as that which made you strong and resilient?
On this 17th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I find myself thinking about how we can reframe tragedy, and it is much more difficult. Where is the silver lining in a terrorist attack that killed almost 3000 civilians?
As my kids (ages 7 and 9) got ready for school this morning, September 11th came up in conversation. I tried to explain what had happened, and even as I tried, I struggled to believe the truth of it. And yet it is one of so many tragic losses in our world; if I allow myself, I could be crushed by the weight of grief and suffering on this planet.
"If I allow myself..." Did you notice that? Our minds, if allowed, can take us into deep, dark places. We must be aware of these thoughts so that they don't take over and we can work to improve them.
We might not be able to reframe terrorism into something positive. And to be honest, the work required to do that would be exhausting and most likely deceptive. But we can focus on some of the positive aftermath.
When 9/11 happened, I was working as a coordinator for an international exchange program. It was my first real job out of college, and I was communicating with people around the world. I was on my way to the airport to pick up another coordinator who was flying in for some job training. I remember listening to the radio and hearing the reports of the airplanes hitting the Twin Towers. I remember the confusion, the denial, the total failure to comprehend the situation. I remember the fear and the disbelief and the terror as the events became real to me. With all flights grounded, my trip to the airport was cut short, and I returned to the program office.
Immediately, my inbox was full of e-mails from other countries. Nonstop phone calls flooded the office as our program partners and hosts called to check in and offer moral support. And in the US, we were no longer segregated by religion, political party, or race. We were AMERICANS, bonded by our tragedy. For several months, people were kinder, more generous, less divided.
As I type this memory, I notice my physical reactions. When rehashing the terrorism, I had a pit in my stomach, tears in my eyes, tightness around my heart. Once I started writing about the unity that came in the aftermath, I started to feel lighter. The tightness dissipated and I felt that sense of hope as I remembered the outpouring of humanity after the attacks.
I am not suggesting that we shoo away all negative emotion. Events like 9/11 cannot be swept under the rug. But as always, awareness is so important. First of all, we must be aware when we are fixating on a circumstance over which we have no control. Secondly, we must be aware that negative emotions are just feelings. If we can name these feelings and allow them without judgment, we can also realize that these feelings will pass and we can help facilitate that passing by redirecting or reframing our thoughts.
For today, on this anniversary that always weighs heavily on our nation, I encourage you to remember what it felt like to be bonded by our grief and lifted up by our shared humanity and national pride.