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 or worse.

    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 roots.

    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 4,000).

    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.