This morning I read an article where the interviewer asked someone about who their greatest hero was. I didn’t read long enough to get the answer. But I imagine they would list a celebrity or political figure, maybe a someone in sports even. When I think of my biggest hero’s I don’t think of any of those. I think of my family. I think of my mother who worked harder than anyone I know, and would show up no matter what, working her way up into a management position when she had started off cleaning tables and got the job cleaning tables off sheer luck and her very like-able personality. I think of my grandmother who served in the military, traveled Europe, and raised her son as a single mother well before any of that was socially acceptable for a black woman in the US in the 1940’s and 1950’s. I think of my father who worked for 20 years to support his family, and did his personal best despite all of the challenges his life and his choices had cast upon him. And my siblings who fight a good fight, each and every one of them a force to be reckoned with and all of us making our way one way or another. And don’t get me wrong, not for a second do I pretend that its easy, ever been easy, or ever will be easy to love all of my folk. But I do. Our families are the ones that give us the first idea of who we are and what we can or can not do.
They can be our best allies, biggest obstacles but for most of us they fall somewhere in between. A mix of biological love and regular interactions and experiences creates this bond that can truly anchor us.
Today is the ten-year anniversary of a day that completely shook our nation. I think partly because it’s exactly 10 years later and partly because NYC and Washington have received recent threats, some of us are on overload. Since about the middle of last week we have seen image after image of the towers being attacked, and knocked down, images of the streets during and immediately after the attacks and the stories of the survivors and those whose family and friends were lost in the attacks. NYC is on a high alert which means that cars are being stopped at check points throughout the city, “suspicious” looking people are being questioned and likely detained.
When I think of 9/11 on any given day of the year at any given time, I remember being in school and my friends and I being in shock and deciding to go against what was suggested and walking home from Hunter on East 79th St. It was too much of a risk for us to even think of staying there. We had just realized the city was being attacked, and could visually see some of the results of it. Once we were downstairs we joined the masses of people walking North and walked until we got to our respective destinations in the Bronx and Northern Manhattan. Some of the walkers were covered in debris and dust, the streets were clear of most traffic besides the walkers. Once I arrived in the Bronx my first stop was my moms, although it wasnt marked with tears and sobs, it was still ripe with emotion and it was a necessary stop. Afterwards I headed home to my children and spouse and had never been so happy to get home. My infant son clearly didn’t know what had happened and I found solace in this. My then 5-year-old son had a normal day at school with some minor concern but he was fine. I had to stop myself from walking from my mother’s home to my own home, initially not realizing that transportation was still working in the Bronx despite having seen busses passing by it just didn’t sink in.
So many of us were so impacted by these and similar events. And while I think it’s incredibly important and valuable to mark this occasion, honor the innocent lives lost and the many families impacted, I worry that we can be re-traumatized when we are over exposed to so many of these repeated images and stories in such a short amount of time. Although many speak of the survivors of 9/11 as only those that escaped the towers, I think the entire city really survived.
If you feel seriously impacted my first suggestion would be to get professional help. You can also do things that you find soothing. Keep a journal about your thoughts and feelings. Speak to family or friends about it, especially those that are similarly effected.
Entering social work school in 2001 was a bit of a culture shock. Having grown up in the Bronx and having been lucky enough to go to a very down to earth undergraduate school like Lehman College, entering professional social work school was a bit daunting. Between struggling with concerns about whether or not i could handle the academic demands, demands of parenting, and the general demands of life there was an additional concern – the demands of a competitive educational arena.
There was the fast pace of Manhattan that permeated the school environment. There was working through and with issues regarding race in my class room education, my day-to-day interactions with other students and staff, and my own slow process of awareness and understanding that i was personally very much struggling with. Then the added layer was learning theory and practice, did i truly understand the difference between a Psychodynamic and Cognitive Behavioral Approach, did i ever actually get Jung? By the time i graduated, i had absorbed so much and learned so much it was hard to know what to hold on to and what to let go of. Sometimes it felt as if the theories, and discussion of theories without more of the discussion of self and the day-to-day removed us from using more of ourselves. Then there were the real “rules” like responding to direct questions with questions about why it was important and other things that just didn’t seem totally appropriate to me. If i was practicing in my own community, which i was, did it make sense to operate from a model that i knew would never make sense to my community as it had never fully seemed relevant to me?
I remember one of my early meetings with a teen-aged girl who was psychotic and being treated in the emergency room at North Central Bronx Hospital. It was myself and the director of psychiatry for the program i worked for meeting with her. He asked away with questions and left little wiggle room for her to speak outside of responding to him. Which also left little room for any true understanding or connection on her part. She shut down and would not respond to him at all until we finally left. Afterwards i went down stairs and chatted with her about her mother, her friends at school, and talked a bit about my own children. Within minutes she opened up and i completed the entire assessment and we were able to get her to where she needed to be. The psychiatrist thanked me and said he figured that it would work out. After this, and many other similar experiences i decided to let go of a lot of the things i had learned from theorist after theorist and approach after approach. At the end of the day people respond to empathy, compassion and a real human connection.
I decided to write this blog after a lengthy discussion with my friend Alisa. Alisa has been single for about four months now and had her latest break up when she learned her then boyfriend was married. This, however, was not the first time she found herself in this predicament. Alisa always seems to find the guys that she could never settle down with because they are otherwise involved….be it married…..engaged…or heavily involved with their own career, hobbies, or addictions. Knowing that i practice in this field, Alisa has asked me many many times if i thought she should go into therapy. My answer YES!!!!!!! Many people believe that therapy is only for “Crazy” people or those that can’t or don’t want to help themselves. The truth is therapy is for anyone that’s dealing with a challenge in life and wants help working through it. Anyone that wants to grow in their life and anyone that wants to work through ANYTHING. Also if you are asking yourself or others if you should go to therapy- the answer is YES. How could i possibly know this if i dont know you personally or your individual circumstance???? I know this because everyone can benefit from therapy to some degree. And if you are curious as to whether you would benefit from it- then chances are that you would.