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The anniversary of the World Trade Center attack will arrive soon after Labor Day. It is tempting, in the summer's heat, to put off thinking about such a sorrowful occasion. But I want to suggest that if we take a deep breath, and start to plan, we will be better off.

First, the deep breath. The year that started on 9/11/01 was unexpected and traumatic. In the first few months, people walked around New York in a daze of bewilderment and pain. Not much work got done. We returned to work bit by bit, many of us putting our emotions aside in an effort to "get back to normal." But "normal" has been elusive: a damaged city to repair, threats of bioterrorism to manage, and world conflict to comprehend have meant many new tasks for each of us. In some ways, the work that existed before Sept. 11 and the new work created by the attack mounted in our in-boxes. By spring, I found myself confronting double the usual number of graduate students attempting to finish their school requirements. It was one of many markers of an extraordinary workload. In asking around, I found many friends and co-workers were also coping with unusual demands on their time and energy. All in all, sudden trauma, chronic tension, extra work, and incessant worry have taken their toll on us. So, take a deep breath—you'll feel better.


It's been almost a year since that terrible morning last Sept. 11, and for many New Yorkers, it's been a difficult one. Friends, neighbors and loved ones are now absent, and the city has been changed forever.

Columbia Health Sciences will remember the past and look to the future in a special 9/11 memorial program to be held Wednesday, Sept. 11, in the Medical Center Garden from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Alumni Auditorium, in case of rain.).

Later that day, the Inwood Interfaith Coalition will join with congregations from Upper Manhattan for an Inwood and Washington Heights procession. Starting from Broadway and Dyckman streets, the parade will meander through the area, finishing at Inwood Hill Park, with choral groups providing musical accompaniment. (Wednesday, Sept. 11, Procession departs at 6:30 p.m. and arrives at approximately 8:30 p.m.).

The Mailman School of Public Health is also sponsoring the Rebuilding Hope Block exercise, where members of the Health Sciences community are invited to decorate blocks with art supplies to create tangible symbols of stress, grief and, perhaps, hope. (Monday, Sept. 9, in the Riverview Lounge, Hammer Health Sciences, 4th floor, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.).



Next, the planning. The anniversary of any loss is an occasion to ponder the absence of the loved one and the presence of a new reality. It requires our focus and our participation. We can help ourselves manage an anniversary by preparing times and places for this all-important emotional work. An anniversary is also an occasion to feel the emotions associated with the loss as they surge through our minds and bodies. Anniversaries exhaust us, because they require us to revisit and understand our feelings. A final point about anniversaries: They are not optional. Even anniversaries that are buried in our memory banks will ripple quietly through us, unnamed and disconnected, but nevertheless profoundly disconcerting.

The planning for the anniversary of 9/11 offers a special challenge, because we will experience an array of painful emotions after a year of stress and tension. "Grief meets strain," you might say. People can easily become ill in such a scenario. It is for this reason planning takes on great urgency, and demands the participation of healthcare providers throughout the metropolitan area.

Since 9/11, I have worked with NYC RECOVERS (http://www.nycrecovers.org/index.htm), an alliance of organizations that have incorporated social and emotional recovery into their agendas in the post-9/11 world. The NYC RECOVERS wellness campaign for September 2002 invites organizations of all kinds throughout the city to hold healing activities that include yoga, song, dance and gardening, and to decorate the city with signs of wellness. We have proposed that what we all need is to embed the anniversary in a month of "wellness." Think good food, sleep, meditation, exercise, spiritual activity—all the things that heal the mind, body and spirit. This will provide the cushion for the hard work of the anniversary. We hope healers of all kinds offer "wellness" events for the public.

In this context of shared concern, we will be able to contemplate the meaning of the past year, and to imagine the future. We invite all members of the medical center community to join us in moving through the anniversary with our hearts open to feel and our ears ready to listen. This is not simply a good idea: It is the best course of action if we are to protect the health of our compatriots and ourselves.

Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove is professor of clinical psychiatry at P&S and professor of public health at the Mailman School of Public Health. The phone number for NYC RECOVERS is 212-740-7297.

Have a Point of View you would like to share on a topic relevant to the In Vivo audience? Contact the editors at invivo@columbia.edu.


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