September 11, 2001
September 11, 2001. The country,
indeed the world, was completely shocked by the events of that morning. Two
planes ran into the World Trade Center, another into the Pentagon. Thousands
are killed. More importantly, millions have their sense of well-being shattered,
their security stricken.
It is my belief, my hope, that September 11, 2001 will
also be a red-letter day in the annals of drug prevention. How's that? Over
the last few decades our nation has drifted apart, families becoming less
and less a factor as individuals seek their own gratifications for better
Benefits from this include greater opportunities resulting
from greater mobility, a greater acceptance of nontraditional occupations
and lifestyles, allowing people to choose their own destinies and not simply
following in the footsteps of their fathers.
But this greater freedom has come at a great price. We
call it the breakdown of the family, a loss of values, a number of labels.
In short, we have children raised by television as their single parents work
double shifts in the interest of making a better life for themselves and
their children. Grandparents are available by telephone or letter or email,
and fathers see the children on alternate weekends.
As each generation drifts further away from those values,
there is less and less a connection with the family and the history and everything
our parents took for granted.
Much of our parental instinct comes from what our parents
taught us. So if the parent isn't around to teach those lessons, they don't
get taught. And likewise, the children don't teach them to their children.
Each generation receives fewer and fewer of the parental lessons.
So why do I get a sense of optimism from such a mournful
day? As we struggle to cope with our fears and insecurities. we run to our
families, our churches, our traditions. We begin to see what is really important--if
families become more important than careers, emotional stability than family
stability, then we can begin a move back to familial stability, back to our
Stronger families and greater emotional stability means
less likelihood of drug use and abuse. Considering drug use is a vicious
cycle--drug use leads to instability which leads to drug use which leads
to instability, ad infinitum--stability is the way to break that cycle.
So if the events of September 11, 2001 lead us to greater
stability as a society, then maybe some of the damage of the last few decades
can be repaired and we can make a few dents in our drug problems.
I remember September 11, 2001
like it was yesterday, though it is over two years when I write this now
(I wrote the above that night, originally in blue felt pen on a yellow legal
pad). I was working as a residential counselor at a boarding school for gifted
students in South Carolina, living in an apartment in the dormitory. I slept
in that morning, woke up about two hours after the planes hit. Walking out
the door to my apartment, I saw one of my students, a senior in high school,
sitting in the fetal position in a chair, crying into a phone. I made a mental
note to check on him when he got off, figuring there may have been a death
in the family.
I noticed the television in the student lounge was on
way too loudly. As I went down the hall to the lounge to tell them to turn
it down, I saw many students watching it and struggling to keep back tears.
When I asked what was going on, one of them gestured to the screen where
I saw footage of the planes hitting. Estimates of death tolls at the time
were in the neighborhood of 50,000 (Thank God the actual total was under
We cancelled classes, held vigils and assemblies, and
stood on alert for students who needed comforting. We knew we had alumni
who lived in New York City, and students with relatives who worked at the
WTC (fortunately, none were killed. One had left literally seconds before
to get breakfast at a restaurant down the street). It was hours to days before
we knew who was and was not safe that had connections to our students.
As counselors, we did what we could to comfort the students
while fighting our own fears and emotions. The most beautiful response, however,
was when, at about 3pm, several students gathered in the lobby of the school
and began playing music. Anybody who had an instrument or wished to sing
along (including myself) joined in and sang for hours. At no time before
or since do I know of such a gathering happening at that school.
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Copyright 2001, 2003, Brian Waterman.