By Laurie Kahn
I have returned to New York many times since September 11 and always find myself wandering back to the damage. The streets surrounding ground zero are littered with memorials. Teddy bears with red white and blue ribbons around their necks. Plaques with the names of police and firefighters who died in the World Trade Center. Street corner memorials with wilted flowers and names of loved ones scribbled on cardboard with frayed edges. A bicycle chained to a lamppost, draped with flowers and a red scarf, and dedicated to a bicycle messenger. Construction workers with pictures sewn on the back of their work clothes of a friend lost in the disaster. Circling the streets you know something horrific has happened. Grief is in the air. Maybe a little less palpable now than in September or October but it is undeniable. Every time I revisit the memorials it is strangely reassuring. I worry as I age I may become one of those people who spend their spare time going to funerals of people they barely knew. Communities gathering, praying, grieving and collectively honoring their losses – it soothes me. Pain mitigated by the embrace of friends and neighbors.
It is the unwitnessed losses that trouble me. The ones that are hidden. Where communities don’t gather and tears are not shed. The places in which there are no memorials.
I am haunted by the unnamed losses of my clients. The loneliness that comes when your public cheeriness is camouflage for the pain inside. The isolation that comes when the stories of your childhood are riddled with violence and abuse, and don’t make good dinner conversation. Not knowing the comfort of friendship because your desire for closeness is coupled with fear. The loss of pleasure because you experience shame with sexual desire. Not finding relationships that nourish because again and again you choose ones that mirror what you learned in an abusive family. The loss of not having had the comfort of an adult when you were in pain. The loss of not being a virgin when you chose your first lover.
My heart aches and I wonder where are the memorials, the teddy bears, the plaques with the names of those who lost their childhoods. Those who have had to resurrect from the ashes a capacity to love, a sense of self and dignity. I sit in my office behind closed doors. I companion my clients; together we walk through the debris of betrayals. I know there is a need greater than what I can provide. My compassion and skills are not adequate to the magnitude of the developmental and psychological scars of their traumas. The stories are hard to hear, yet I wonder why are so many people willing, even clamoring, to witness the site of the terrorist attack on New York and so unwilling to know and witness the losses suffered by childhood abuse.
I want to assure my clients that their grief is not theirs to bear alone. It belongs to all of us. I want to tell them that there should be a moment of silence every day in every community where a child’s spirit was lost. That child we all know or have glanced at or have been ourselves, the one whose eyes stopped sparkling with curiosity and wonder. I want to tell them if they listen very carefully they can hear a village weeping.