Helaina was in school three blocks from the World Trade Center (WTC) on September 11, 2001. She was in 7th grade. And when the first plane hit the WTC, she and her classmates were led down to the cafeteria. They all moved down the halls together, not knowing what was happening. Some children who had radios told others that planes hit the Twin Towers. Soon they were running from a giant cloud of smoke and wreckage. As the tragedy unfolded, white dust covered everything except their fears. You can read her story in her book, After 9/11.
Following that day, Helaina started a long journey, as have other firsthand witnesses. But 9/11 affected those of us who were not there as well. We watched the events on television as images were burned into our minds. When people are traumatized, all 3 parts of our brains are affected. The prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is known as the thinking center, The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is the emotion regulation center, and the amygdala, which is the fear center. Trauma deeply affects us.
It is now 18 years after the world-shaking event. Hope compels us to question: have we healed at all? Here are five proofs that we are healing some of the wounds of 9/11:
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1. Our fears are lessened.
Whether we were close to this tragedy on the day it happened, or witnessing it via our televisions, all of us became afraid when we heard the word ‘terrorists.’ We didn’t know what would happen next. Our fears loomed large and stayed with us. Some people experienced fear, just thinking about the event. But as the years started passing, we started working through those fears. And as time passed and we didn’t hear of another terrorist attack, our fears began subsiding.
God tells us in scripture to “fear not,” but when tragedy strikes it’s a human reaction for us to fear. We have this automatic response programed into us called “fight or flight.” Our body starts producing large amounts of adrenalin and it affects us greatly. With 9/11, we could not see our opponent, so our instinct was to run. But where?
Those of us who know the Bible know that God is sovereign. Yet, we were overwhelmed by the events of 9/11. We know God knew about it, just as he knows everything. So we turn to Psalm 46:1 which tells us that God is our refuge and strength. He is our very present help in trouble.
I believe when we’re in heaven we will know about how God sent angels to help those who were in that place at that very scary time. God is a loving Father who cares about his creation. The enemy of our souls, Satan, is the lover of destruction and the father of lies. Satan wants us to believe that God did not care, or he would have stopped it. And that is a lie.
If we can accept that God knows not one of us will escape trouble or fear in this world, and lay our fears at his feet, He will exchange our fear with peace and hope.
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2. We can talk about 9/11 now.
As the events of 9/11 unfolded, people were in shock. Those living in New York walked around in disbelief for weeks. The PFC, which is the thinking part of our brains gets all muddled when we go through trauma.
In grief, it’s difficult to process our loss. My family suffered our own tragedy on September 12, 1982, when our sister Peggy, disappeared. We found it difficult to think at all. We were so overcome with grief and fear. Where was she? What happened? And we’d see the sun shining and wonder why it would shine when we felt so dark inside. Nothing makes sense when trauma strikes.
Yet as we communicate with each other and work through trauma in relationship with God and each other, our emotions heal. With our sister’s story, as I continued to process her disappearance and death, eventually I was not only able to talk about it...I wrote about it. One of God’s names is Jehovah Raphawhich means the God who heals.
You’ve often heard it said, “Time heals all wounds,” but that’s not entirely true. We need to choose to work through our pain with God as the One who heals; submitting ourselves to him.
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3. We can resume our lives.
Did you ever notice how resilient some people are? It’s an ability God puts inside of us, to adapt to our environment. Even when we face trauma, as we work through it, there comes a day when we assimilate all that transpired.
People who thought they could never go on another flight are now flying again. And while it was hard seeing the heightened security at the airports, it also gives us a feeling that maybe we are safe again.
The responders to 9/11 had the biggest challenges. The images, the smells, and that white dust that covered everyone are memories that will last forever. Those who have lost loved ones will, with God’s great grace and healing, learn to adapt to life without them.
My heart goes out to those who never recovered the remains of their loved ones. My sister was killed, but we never recovered her body. Though she was the victim of domestic violence, we didn’t go to trial until 20 years after the fact. Though there was plenty of evidence, since it was so long ago, her husband was pronounced not guilty. A couple weeks later, we stood together on Peggy’s empty grave to say goodbye.
All throughout that ordeal, God gave me peace that passed understanding. Because my sister believed in the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross, I know I’ll see her in heaven one day.
Trauma changes you forever, but eventually, we learn how to resume our lives without our loved ones.
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4. We can trust again.
As I read Helaina’s account of 9/11, I saw the difficult journey of healing she had ahead. She lived with the stress of thinking it could happen again at any moment. All of us have heard stories about how New York pulled together.
Trauma changes our perspective. We become sensitive to others who go through trauma. We understand in a new way how people hurt. And those of us who have experienced God’s comfort, as it talks about it in 2 Corinthians 1:4, are able to pass that comfort onto others.
Those who have endured trauma eventually realize they can trust again. And little by little, they take their wobbly trust and place it once more in God, as the father did in Mark 9:24. He told the Lord he believed, but asked God to help his unbelief. God is patient and long-suffering. He knows it will take time for those who are traumatized to trust again.
God gives us all the time we need. He’s not going anywhere.
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5. We love differently.
When you lose loved ones, you learn how important it is to let the ones you care about know how much you love them. You become more forgiving, and more gracious. And more grateful for each and every day you are given.
Having lost many loved ones in my life, I have a different perspective than when I was younger. I don’t take people for granted. With each loss, I’m learning how to be more present where I am, and to enjoy the people I’m with.
Those who lost loved ones on 9/11 would give anything for just one more day with those they have lost. Whenever we lose someone we love, we experience regrets. We may wish we had told them we loved them more. We may wish we would have been kinder. Trauma teaches you to love differently. You realize you need to verbalize how you feel, because only God knows how many days we have left.
Going through trauma helps us know more about God and love him more. This might sound confusing to some. How could we possibly love God more, when he could have stopped what happened, right?
The truth is man was given free will and sometimes man chooses wrong. While going through trauma, we realize God is there with us. If God knows when even a sparrow falls to the ground, as it says in Matthew 10:29, then we know he saw what happened to each person lost.
When I was being tormented with thoughts of what my sister went through before she died, God whispered to me something I will never forget. He said, “Anne, I was with her.” And I believe when she took her last breath, God carried her to heaven.
A prayer for those who have suffered trauma:
Lord, some of those reading this article have suffered great loss. They have lost loved ones, or experienced other trauma in their lives. Father, I pray you will heal their wounded hearts. I pray that they will know that no matter what they go through, you are with them. And Lord, if they are struggling in any way, I pray that you would guide and direct them so that they can live the lives you meant for them to live. If they need strength, give them strength. If they need wisdom, give them your wisdom. Embrace them Lord, with your everlasting arms. We pray this in your son Jesus’ precious and Holy name. Amen.
Anne Peterson has suffered a lot of trauma in her life. She is a regular contributor to Crosswalk as well as being a poet, speaker, and published author of 14 books. Her books include: Broken: A story of abuse, survival, and hope, as well as a volume of 3 books, He Whispers: Poetic talks with God. Sign up for anne’s newsletter at www.annepeterson.com and click on free Ebooks to choose one. Or connect with Anne on Facebook. Follow Anne so you know when she’ll be releasing her most recent book.
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