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Dealing with the aftermath

By Jeremy Reynalds
web posted September 24, 2001

Quite appropriately after last week's nightmare attack on America, we've been warned by the experts that over-exposure to news featuring disturbing visual images that excel horror conceived formerly only in the minds of Hollywood screenwriters, can be detrimental to children.

This fact was really brought home to me when my 12-year old son asked if I thought that maybe we were beginning World War III.

Other parents faced different comments and questions from their children. Writing on an America-on-Line bulletin board, one mother related some of what her four-year-old has been telling her during the last few days. According to this mom, her son commented "Mommy, all the people that went to God left their shoes on the floor." Then he asked her, "Why didn't the plane-man turn the wheel? Why did he make a fire in the buildings." And then most tellingly, this youngster, forced to confront realities with which he was not yet ready to deal, said "Mommy, I made a (sic) airplane from the Play-Doh but I'm not gonna crash the buildings, okay?"

And as mom continued in the same post, "Just three of the sentences that came out of my four-year-old's mouth this week... Sentences that should never have been there... visions that we should never have seen... the smell of fire in our living room - the smoke in our sky - the constant sound of emergency vehicles. Lock-down in our schools - fear in our hearts."

But while the viewing of this tragedy affects children in a very special way, it also produces emotional trauma and turmoil in adults. Calvary of Albuquerque Pastor Skip Heitzig summarized his feelings when he told his congregation that, after viewing the wall-to-wall coverage for a number of hours one day last week, he felt pummeled.

I also experienced the same effect as Pastor Skip and found it necessary to take a news break: read the Bible, pray and watch an innocuous TV drama. Don't feel bad about doing the same thing. You're not being unpatriotic, just making a diligent attempt to maintain your emotional and spiritual well-being so that you will still be able to pray effectively for our country following this awful disaster.

And ABC News is evidently realizing that certain images are just too terrifying with which to keep bombarding the American public. Just a couple of days ago, according to "Broadcasting and Cable" as quoted in "The Drudge Report," ABC News President David Westin said that his network would no longer air any more replays of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. According to Drudge, "Westin noted that gratuitous use of the footage is inappropriate."

While everyone is grieving, the terrible events of September 11th are affecting different people in different ways. Clinical psychologist Christopher M. Peterson, PhD, told www.WebMD.com that "there is no normal way to grieve; there is unbelievable variation. Some get over it very quickly; some never get over it. Some are very emotional; some are quiet. The advice is this: there is no blueprint for getting back to normal. People should find what is comfortable for them and let others find what makes them comfortable. There is no need to chastise others for enjoying themselves."

With the tragedy impacting everyone differently, how are the homeless coping, many of whom have lost everything except their lives? How do they feel when what is regarded as the very epitome of American success gets blown up before their eyes? Some residents of Joy Junction–New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter-- bared their hearts.

One shelter resident who wished to remain anonymous, said, "I have a vulnerable state of mind when I remember the morning of September 11th. I wonder if a bomb will explode during a major event in the future?"

Another guest said, "I think the bombings of New York and the Pentagon is a violation (sic) of everything America stands for. I was born in New Jersey and the World Trade Center was an object of fascination. I would like to see us annihilate all of Afghanistan; all countries harboring terrorists. I think this was the most cruel act in peace time, something that will never be forgotten. (It reminds Americans) just how things can happen in the blink of an eye."

Another resident commented, "I think that the thing that happened (sic) in New York is just a part of Bible prophecy. We can look for more things to happen; like earthquakes. We cannot stop Bible prophecy."

And despite having lost all of her physical belongings one lady commented, "My heart really goes out to all the people who has (sic) lost loved ones in New York. I watched the news one day and saw a lady looking for her fiancé and I put myself in her shoes and the pain it had on me. God Bless."

Men were hit just as hard. One man said, "(The New York Tragedy) was a shock to me and my wife. We felt the pain in our hearts. Me and my wife pray for New York! This was a tragedy that was too close to home. We pray these families find justice in their hearts and that nothing like this happens again."

So what's the answer? I am unable to say it any better than the mother of that little four-year-old I quoted above. She wrote that even after September 11th, " ... America is still the land of the free and the home of the brave. ONE nation ....under GOD ...INDIVISIBLE ...with LIBERTY and JUSTICE for ALL."

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and director of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter. He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico and is pursuing his PhD in intercultural education at Biola University in Los Angeles. He is married with five children and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. His work can be viewed here and weekly at www.americasvoices.org. He may be contacted by e-mail at reynalds@joyjunction.org.

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