I do not like who I used to be. There is no doubt I’m a better person than I was, far beyond that which once caused me self-disgust, but I do wonder if there are other traits laying in relative dormancy, waiting for an unknown catalyst that will allow them to come festering to the surface. If they are anything like what happened to me here, I both dread and welcome it. This entry does not reference any addiction; it addresses a personality flaw that came to light in the weeks following 9/11. If you’re wondering how this could align with the ongoing topics of self-improvement, self-actualization, and recovery, read on. You’ll realize by the end of this article why I’ve written it.
Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001….. Two co-workers and I were at a high school in Denver awaiting the delivery of an underground acid tank that was to be installed as part of the laboratory remodel. Our work load was light and there was nothing to do but wait. I was getting caught up on paperwork to pass the time while we listened to the radio in the trailer. Normal programming was soon interrupted and news came on that a plane had struck the World Trade Center. The DJ said there might be some deaths. My first thought went back to WWII when I had read about a bomber hitting the Empire State Building. There were some casualties and the structure is obviously still there, so while there was an immediate concern for the events so far, my initial reaction was more of curiosity than horror. With nothing else to do I suggested we go to one of the empty classrooms where construction was taking place and turn on a TV to see if we could get some more information. Like everyone else in the nation we had no idea what we were about to witness.
We came in just in time to see another plane fly into the second building; and although I had no insight to my reactions at the time, this is where my character defect started kicking in. I ask you, the reader, to forgive me for what I’m about to say. It’s difficult to write about, but I feel it’s an important observation nonetheless. Bear with me and you’ll find out how everything came out on the other side.
In my opinion it’s rude to slow down past car accidents to gawk at the wreckage. I’ve always been one to insist on NOT looking out of respect. It’s reprehensible behavior and I’ve been practicing what I preach all my life; that is up until that morning. It was so difficult to not look. I remember dozens of shaky camera angles; obscured views from the sky and street where confusion and panic were being voiced. Images flitted across the screen while stoic news reports and random speculations were voicing their opinions in the background. And then it happened. None of us watching really saw the first tower fall, but we did see the second one. Its mighty bulk tilted ever so slightly and disintegrated into itself obscured by a giant cloud of smoke and dust. Like so many of us the image is burned into my memory, unfortunately so was my reaction to it. All I could think was, “Wow, that’s good special effects!” I might have even said something, I don’t really remember. I was so detached from the event I had no empathy about it for some time. The question was, why couldn’t I feel anything?
Three weeks have passed now. I don’t think our enemies were counting on the reaction we had as a nation. If they expected us to cower and crumble, well, THAT didn’t happen. If anything our resolve was strengthened by the disappearance of all the petty squabbling amongst ourselves as we (and a good portion of the planet) banded together and stood in unity for peace. It was a nice side-effect to the carnage of that day. Every night the news was dedicated to what had happened, and while I believe that news is only news the first time it’s seen, I agreed with the continuing coverage. Like Novocaine, the numbness I was injected with was beginning to vanish as the events of 9/11 were re-played in an unending loop. They began to get harder and harder for me to watch. Finally I had enough. I walked into the bathroom and threw up. I also began sobbing; partially for the victims but more because I realized there was something very wrong with me.
I was immobilized.”Why hadn’t I reacted this way when it happened? Where is my humanity?” “Am I evil and selfish?” It took some reflection but I now know what was “wrong,” and as I move through the second half of my life, I seek to reinforce a crucial part of me that was missing. Sometime in the late eighties I came across an article debating the influence of violence in media aimed namely at television and movies. Video games weren’t realistic enough to be mentioned, but I’m sure they’d be included if it were written today. I read forth with a preset point-of-view. My opinion was that people know the difference between what is make-believe and reality, and honestly I still believe it’s true, but that wasn’t the focus of debate. The argument was this; if someone sees any act of brutality whether it’s real or not they will not react with the same revulsion that would normally surface once the actual event is witnessed. They become desensitized. What should obviously be an expected reaction becomes dulled and unsympathetic. I changed my mind once I had finished reading the piece, but I never changed my habits; I went on watching and being entertained by violence. By the time 9/11 occurred I was so detached from reality that my mind went to the only source of connection I had established, fantasy.
As time went on I slowly began changing. Most of the actions in my life since I’ve stopped my self-destructive behavior have been focused on creativity; writing, drawing, building, and learning have worked wonders as they drive me towards becoming a better man, but what I initially missed was improving upon a more productive and creative, reaction to life. When I magnified appreciation, acceptance, tolerance, and forgiveness I ended up manifesting a creative environment. My perspective on all which surrounded me was beginning to align with what I wanted for myself. I’ve done my best to drop the desire to compare the present with the past and this has helped me to better absorb the moment without as much prejudice. Taking on the roles of both participant and observer has shifted my perspective towards a more compassionate lifestyle, though I’m not nearly in a place I should be yet. Selfishness and self-centeredness still assert themselves frequently, especially in the form of not listening and interrupting. Impatience, judgment, procrastination, and a whole plethora of other unwanted personality traits are still in my bag of tricks. Fortunately, a lot of them are becoming rather dusty.
My “observer” is to the point now where simply I cannot watch the yearly replay of those horrific events from twelve and a half years ago. I’ve tried, and it’s just too much. Too much suffering, too many lives forever fractured by the losses of their loved ones. All the tomorrows gone forever, and all the memories that cannot be erased. For those wounded who survived, it must be like a splinter in the soul never to be removed; a constant reminder of what cannot be repaired or replaced.
Last year my wife and I visited ground zero. I fully expected to enter a space of restlessness and despondency. It was nothing of the sort, in fact it was one of the most spiritual places I’ve ever been; peaceful, beautiful, and inspiring. The museum on the grounds was not open yet, but we did attend another called “The Ground Zero Museum Workshop.” There are stories and photos here you probably have never heard or seen. It chronicles the event itself along with the aftermath in the weeks and months that followed. Here is a link- Ground Zero Museum Workshop. This tiny gallery (it’s literally one room) is also a holy place. I highly recommend it.
Those people who died that day paid with their lives to give us the gift of not only a more United States of America, but a more united world; one where we can look at each other and not just accept our differences, but ignore them completely. They say what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Damn right.
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With Love and Compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood