My 9/11 Forgiveness Story
Do you remember where you were on 9/11? I do because I was there. That horrendous day was imprinted into my memory forever. Yet this tremendous tragedy taught me a big life lesson about the power of forgiveness. One minute my office building was attached to the WTC, and the next it wasn’t. Imploded, disintegrated, gone. And so were some of my friends, colleagues, and 3000 other human souls who perished without a trace. Disbelief, shock, terror, rage, hate, resentment, blame, grief, and a thirst for vengeance gripped my body and mind. Communications were down, and I was confused, disoriented, and terrified. I thought the entire U.S. was being attacked. It felt surreal. Survival was my first concern. But as the days, weeks, and months progressed, I realized I needed to do something different to heal or these emotions and my PTSD would grip me in a stranglehold for years to come. Forgiveness was the elixir to help me let go and move ahead, rather than stay stuck in the harmful effects of blame, which robbed me of true happiness, connection, joy, and a zest for life.
I’m not telling you about my experience so you can compare yourself to me, conclude that your circumstances are more/less serious than mine, or to diminish your hurts. I’m recounting it to encourage the understanding that if I can forgive, the possibility exists for you, too, regardless of the situation. You get to choose.
I won’t go into the gory details of the horror of that day, only that miraculously I met a woman on the NYC streets who lived in my hometown. We travelled home together by taking one of the last trains departing NYC. Subsequently, we hitchhiked the rest of the way home. I then made sure my young children were locked inside my house, secured the windows, shut the lights, closed the shades, covered the windows in plastic in case of a biological attack, placed chairs against the doors, and hid under the covers with fitful nightmares. This lasted 48 hours until I realized my reactions wouldn’t keep any of us safe. But I was still terrified and enraged.
A few weeks later, I heard about an Islamic Mosque in a nearby town opening its doors to the community to pray, grieve, and heal together. Instinctively, I knew I needed to attend, but no one wanted to accompany me. I was afraid to go by myself, especially since I’m Jewish, but I went anyway. To my surprise, 1000 people attended an interfaith service. I discovered that Muslim and Jewish prayers and traditions were more similar than I could have imagined. The Muslim community was also trying to grapple with what happened. Some of their congregants were killed, too.
My beliefs about the “enemy” and those who hurt me were now being challenged. I realized we were really feuding cousins for thousands of years who couldn’t forgive each other. All people have the same needs for safety, belonging, and dignity. We all begin as innocent infants, and then our thoughts and actions diverge, shaped by our warped beliefs. I will never condone or forget what happened, but my vulnerable heart had split wide open. Instead of armoring it with resentment and blame, there was space for compassion and forgiveness. If I continued the anger and hatred, I would become just like the perpetrators. It would keep me imprisoned in my emotions and perpetuate a continual cycle of violence. The perpetrators would have succeeded in their goals beyond their expectations. Instead, forgiveness became a critical tool to heal myself, my children, my community, and the world. And the best time to start was right then because, as I learned, no one knows what the next moment will bring.
You Win When You Forgive
Forgiveness is an intentional decision to let go of resentment and blame for those you believe have hurt or wronged you. This could involve a significant other, child, parent, sibling, extended family, friend, coworker, or the cashier at the grocery store who slighted you. Most important is forgiving yourself for something you said, did, didn’t do, or for your perceived flaws. But forgiveness is easier said than done, especially when you’re the one faced with the situation. It can continue to fester deeper into your body and subconscious. Fortunately, forgiveness can heal, but there may be barriers.
Here are some misconceptions about forgiveness:
“If I forgive, then they don’t have to take responsibility.” Forgiveness doesn’t mean letting someone off the hook, condoning, or forgetting. You can’t control others’ thoughts and actions, regardless of what you do. The person may or may not directly suffer the consequences. But forgiveness gives you the ability to stop them from renting space in your head so you’re not continually damaged by their actions.
“Forgiveness is a sign of weakness.” It takes more courage to forgive than to hold a grudge. This doesn’t mean you should let people hurt you.
“If I forgive, there’s no motivation to change.” The opposite is the truth. The less judgmental you are, the more you give another (or yourself) the opportunity to evaluate the behavior without defensiveness, and then to possibly change.
“What was done was too horrible to ever forgive.” There are some actions that are heinous beyond belief. Ultimately, forgiveness isn’t for those who commit crimes. It’s for your freedom to be happy without guilt, blame, or shame.
Forgiveness has many healing benefits:
Emotional Freedom - This is for you more than anyone else. It frees you from the emotional bondage holding your life hostage. And it’s such an energy sucker! Charlotte Joko Beck, an American Zen teacher, put it succinctly, “Our failure to know joy is a direct reflection of our inability to forgive.” So, if you want consistent happiness and joy in your life, consider giving yourself the gift of forgiveness.
Physical Wellbeing - The inability to forgive can affect our immune system, cardiovascular functioning, and cause unnecessary stress, overwhelm, suffering, and pain. It can raise cortisol levels, keeping us in a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze until we’re exhausted. Our bodies never get a chance to relax and repair, and it’s harder to function at the top of our game. So forgive for your health.
Improved Relationships - It encourages open communication, empathy, compassion, understanding, and fosters deeper connections and healthier relationships with others.
Accelerated Personal Growth – It can teach us resilience and the capacity to transform pain into wisdom. That’s a winner!
6 Ways to Help Yourself Forgive
Forgive Yourself First – Start by being kind to yourself for your perceived flaws. You’ll find the kinder you are to yourself, the more compassionate you can be towards others. It gets you in touch with your own demons and helps you understand the pain and struggles of others. Remember, we were all born innocent babies with the same needs.
Identify and Allow Your Feelings – Where and with whom are you holding blame and resentment? What emotions lay underneath? It’s okay to feel the way you do minus judging yourself. Holding onto a grudge without acknowledging what’s hiding beneath deepens the wound.
Understand Your Reactions – This isn’t a cognitive exercise, but rather a somatic/body experience to uncover your own conscious and subconscious beliefs and motivations. This takes practice. A somatic healing coach can help you unlock your body’s wisdom without the analytic mind keeping you stuck in a rut. In other words, the same thinking will get you the same results unless you can breakthrough to a deeper understanding.
Intend to Forgive – Forgiveness can be a layered process. Sometimes you’re not ready to forgive yet. That’s okay; just having the intention to forgive in the future is one step closer to freedom.
Establish Boundaries – Forgiveness doesn’t mean you need to compromise your safety or wellbeing. You can take actions and set boundaries for what is acceptable, limit contact, or decide upon no contact. You don’t have to continue a friendship to forgive.
Seek Support – The support of friends, a therapist, and/or a trained coach can help you uncover your unhelpful beliefs and triggers so you can let go and move ahead.
My 9/11 experience is one of the reasons I’m so passionate about being a Somatic Wellness and Life Coach. I can help you transform suffering into healing so the cycle isn’t perpetuated, and you can live a happy, healthy life now. It’s also why I specialize in trauma informed practices. Schedule a complimentary call with me to find out more. I’m confident you will have “aha” insights to empower your life and health.