What 9-11 has to Teach us about Human Connection

 Tim Marshall/unsplash.com

Tim Marshall/unsplash.com

We all remember

I venture to guess that we all remember where we were on Sept 11, 2011. I had recently moved to Seattle and I was living with my aunt. I got up to get ready for work and turned on the radio for background noise. Then I heard the news. It was surreal. While we were still sleeping in Seattle time, all four planes have crashed and the twin towers have collapsed. I quickly woke up my aunt and we raced downstairs to watch the news. Our hearts sank. As a Chinese Canadian new to living on American soil, “Is this what happens in America?” It was unbelievable.

I have another aunt who lives in Long Island, NY and her husband works in Manhattan. We promptly made calls to all their numbers. Busy tone. We might have made other calls to family members; I no longer remember. Seeing that there was little we could do, I was late, but headed into work. My aunt left work early that day. We got in touch with Aunt Noelle later on that night. The rest was a blur.

What people did that day

It made sense that the phone lines were busy. The cell phone network was overloaded as most people called somebody they knew in NYC. Family, friends, colleagues, past nanny. Somebody.

And the interesting thing is, we did not just call people in NYC. We also called and spoke with others who didn’t live there. I spoke with my parents that night and they live in Vancouver, BC, Canada. We called my Aunt Lisa who lives in town. Where they resided was irrelevant. When we sense fear, and a terrorist attack would do that to us, we reach for connection with the people closest to us. We reach for them because they matter to us and they bring us comfort. If people we know are not around, we reach for strangers because any human connection is better than no human connection.

A culture of self-reliance

But, aren’t we an individualistic society? We’re often self-sufficient and capable and many of us go about our everyday lives with little help from others. Even if we have a need, we might hesitate to speak it. If we ask and don’t get a response, we might decide to do without the help. We pride ourselves in being independent.

Could it be that we need each other more than we’re willing to admit? Could it be that our desire for closeness and connection in times of threat speaks to that need?

Coming together

16 years ago, we sought comfort and connection from each other following one of the worse terrorist attacks in American history. Similar stories follow when we go through other crises: an increase in political unrests bans us together against the many “isms” in our society; the wake of Hurricane Harvey prompted Houston and nearby residents in rescue efforts using boats, stand up paddle boards, or just wading through chest deep water.

And it’s not over yet. Hurricanes Irma and Jose are happening as I type this. There will be many more natural and man-made disasters to come. But, we will have each other. Coming together and seeing the value in being with each other will help buffer us through the storms of life.

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Ada Pang is the proud owner of People Bloom Counseling, a Redmond psychotherapy practice in WA. She helps unhappy couples find safety and connection in their relationship. She also helps cancer thrivers and their caregivers integrate cancer into their life stories. She can be reached at ada@peoplebloomcounseling.com.