VIEW FROM THE HILL: Pain forces choices: live with it, become bitter, give up

Sept. 11, 2001, is still a day not far from our nation’s collective mind. Though they are not flagrantly displayed on every television screen and front pages of the newspapers anymore, the ghostly images of that day still play in our minds and remind us of the horror and loss of life.

Newsmagazines and television networks are now feverishly preparing to present their reflections of the 9-11 tragedy, retelling the stories of the victims and rescue teams as the day unfolded.

My reaction to this anniversary activity depends on my mood during the day. It ranges from “Enough already! This is too painful to watch, over and over again,” to quiet, reflective sorrow for the families of the victims.

I am no different than any other person. I hate pain. I avoid it whenever I can. And I do not enjoy watching others living in pain.

Recent news coverage of last year’s tragedy has revived my own painful memories. Before the nation stood helpless and horrified at the loss of life, I watched my grown-up daughter being wheeled into the operating room, knowing the surgery she faced was risky. I dreaded the thought of doctors confronting me with bad news.

But while she was in surgery, the personal pain I experienced was compounded by the unfolding drama in New York City, in Pennsylvania and, just miles away from our hospital, at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

Now living in Manhattan, N.Y., and mostly recovered from surgery, my daughter described her recent visit to Ground Zero. “The big hole,” as she described it “was full of pain.”

“It was the same sense I had when visiting sites of the concentration camps in Europe, as well as the Wailing Wall and the West Bank of Palestine,” she said.

But what multiplied her pain was the festive mood of the crowd near Ground Zero as sidewalk vendors hawked their Ground Zero memorabilia and took pictures of tourists, with the “hole” in the background.

But good things do come from painful experiences. They shine through like beacons of light, showing us the way to live, no matter what life throws at us.

Two stories I cannot forget remind me God is walking with us and cares for us as walls literally fall around us, or even when we are faced with the reality that our life is over.

One story was of a man who worked in one of the World Trade Center towers. As he talked with someone on the phone, he looked out the window, saw the 767 airliner heading toward his office, and cried out to God for protection.

Just as he spoke, the wing of the plane was lifted, as if by a giant hand, and the plane flew up and crashed above him. He survived and escaped the building in time.

The other story is about a man on the 105th floor. After numerous futile attempts to find a way out, this man gathered his coworkers and prepared the group with the reality that eternity awaited them.

Later, it became known through e-mails and phone calls by his coworkers-which miraculously made it through to other family members-how this hero spent the last minutes of life counseling and praying with anybody who wanted comfort.

What a way to live in the face of death-to sacrifice one’s own needs and look out for the needs of others.

Having been a survivor of painful experiences-if one defines a survivor as one who is still living-I have learned some things about pain.

Pain forces us to make choices. We can choose to live with it, to become bitter and angry that life is not fair, or simply give up.

As tough as it sounds, living with pain seems the to be the better option.

In an interview, a young mother who lost her husband that fateful September day said her period of mourning, though very painful, would eventually end. For her, life had to go on. She had children to think of, and she needed to confront her own “singleness.” She was on her own again, but with even greater responsibilities. She decided that on Sept. 12, 2002, the time for mourning would cease.

I admire her determination to face the future and move on. Her decision did not lessen the pain, but it was now possible to finish the healing process and move forward.

I also believe in the value of having a group of close friends and relatives to ease the burden, provide a shoulder to cry on, and walk with during those times when it seems the world is crashing in.

Even better is having a support group that can relate to you because of their own painful experiences. They don’t have to speak to communicate-their actions speak volumes. When words are appropriate, they are seasoned with unconditional love and compassion.

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