(My column for September 2015…)
It doesn’t matter how careful you are. You can take all the precautions you like, but injuries will still happen.
We childproofed our house to a fare-thee-well – all outlets covered, drawers latched, sharp table corners covered with those little rubber bumpers. But all that was to no avail when our infant daughter crawled under the coffee table and then tried to stand. For a few seconds, her wails might have made you think the world was on fire – but she soon got over it, and set off on her next adventure.
Funny thing about injuries. Some pass in an instant. Some need only a touch of attention – a mother’s kiss, a squirt of Bactine, maybe a cartoon bandage. Scraped elbows, skinned knees, even broken teenage hearts, given a little time and the right amount of care, can heal… perhaps leaving behind a little scar, or a little bit of wisdom.
Some injuries might seem to heal, but never quite go away completely. A residual limp, or the occasional twinge of pain reminds you of something you had almost – almost – forgotten.
Some injuries change your entire reality, all at once and forever. A limb disappears in twisted metal, a nerve is severed in a fall, a sense is lost – from such injuries, there is no return to normal, no real healing, only adaptation… and acceptance.
Some injuries you may not understand, or even recognize, for years. The damage remains hidden, underneath the threshold of notice, until the passing of time and the process of aging erode its insulation – or it grows into inescapable awareness, like a football player’s concussion, or a factory worker’s cancer.
Some injuries happen all at once, with a scream or a screech of brakes – but others are the result of a steady stream of little insults to the body, like long-term exposure to toxic chemicals. One goes happily along through life, unknowing, unsuspecting, taking in the deadly agents with every breath or sip of water.
Sometimes healing happens by itself, on its own mysterious schedule. Sometimes it requires concerted, determined, even painful effort. I know a couple of folks who recently received replacement hips – ahead of them is a well-worn but still challenging road of rehabilitation, but when it’s over they will be in much better shape than before.
Sometimes the effort required isn’t physical. Sometimes it’s a process of coming to grips – mentally, emotionally, even spiritually – with what has happened. It might require a letting go of guilt – or an acceptance of responsibility. It might be a long process of mourning and grief, or of releasing one’s anger and fear, or of coming to forgiveness. One way or another, we have to come to terms with the world again. Failure to do this can drive one insane.
I lay out all these scenarios, these models, of injury and healing, so that I can ask you this question:
Which of them apply to you, with regard to 9/11? Which might apply to our country?
I can’t say that I’ve completely healed, myself – not just from the shock of the attacks themselves, but from their aftermath as well.
And I don’t think that we have healed as a country. We haven’t gone through the emotional rehab we need – in part, because it’s in some people’s interests to keep picking at the psychic scabs of our collective injury. The results, the delayed reactions to 9/11, are visible everywhere: increased violence, social polarization, Islamophobia, xenophobia… and, I would like to suggest, the otherwise hard-to-explain front-runner status of Donald Trump.