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America's post-9/11 Fear Story

Everyone has a fear story.

That goes for every child and adult. For every state and nation. I’m talking universal experience.

Our fear story. Our history.......but only in part.

When meeting with my counseling clients and hearing their stories of distress, I tend to listen closely for two main themes. What does their brain’s prefrontal cortex or “emotional brain” think about the story? And what does their brain’s frontal lobe or “rational brain” think about it? And while I wouldn’t ask the question in those terms, it is often quite apparent which part of the human brain is telling the story without my asking.

In the aftermath of 9/11/2001, I have my own story as do most Americans who were then old enough to form a memory. Keep in mind that roughly 25% of Americans were not even born as of that date in our history. Many others were too young to “remember 9/11.”

For Sue and me the most traumatic memory of that date was learning from the passenger registry of American Airlines that, yes, Sue’s brother was for certain a passenger on their Flight# 11 bound from Boston to Los Angeles that morning. His plane was the first of four hijacked aircraft on 9/11; the one that hit the North Tower of the WTC at 8:46 a.m. So as universally happens the first responder within our own minds was, as you’d imagine, our “emotional brain” that processes all unfamiliar or “other” and “foreign” information as a threat to survival and safety. In terms of stress hormones, our own bodies went into “fight or flight” mode chemically. That same afternoon I ended up taking Sue to the ER and a CT scan of her splitting headache revealed no structural or vascular injury. However, her muscle tension in the area of her neck was producing the most intense spasm she had ever experienced. Her closest of siblings was instantly gone from what had happened that morning of 9/11/2001. A victim of terrorism within that cabin of Flight #11.

Fight or flight. Our emotional brains were prepared, as happens from the time we leave the womb in infancy, to protect our survival and safety as individuals, families, and nations. Hence, the reality of our private and public fear story. Individually. Collectively. Our emotional brains on overload.

To say that America has PTSD from which we as a nation are still suffering to this day would not be an over-statement. Nations do not hire mental health professionals to guide policy responses and the first science to be denied due to social stigma remains the science of the mind and of human behavior. Those who study climate and epidemiology are accepted and employed well beyond those who study psychology at this stage of human history. The mind, the computer and operating system that runs human behavior, remains an “other” or “foreign” matter to, well, even its own prefrontal cortex that is first responder to all human events taking place. Psychology itself triggers the brain’s and then body’s fight or flight instincts. I call it "computer phobia" of the human computer itself. Psychic auto-immunity.

Give it another era of time as humanity evolves and the now unfamiliar “other” becomes the familiar “us.” The future of psychological healthcare promises improvement over coming generations.

For now, however, it would be my own professional opinion (and no, I present no factual data to back up my assertion, so read this as theory only) America is still suffering from a collective PTSD problem. Intense fear underlies our anger. Our fight / flight behaviors range from hoarding firearms for fight to abusing alcohol and other drugs for flight. From assault rifles to opiods we are badly overdosed. Fatally so at times! Our startle response and hypervigilance is off the charts. Our disordered sleep and anxiety levels? Same way. Our stress hormones out of whack. Our physical health breaking down in ways that exacerbate both pandemic death rates and financial bankruptcies.

We’re a mess.

And America has no Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or treatment plan that will activate our frontal lobe’s “rational brain” enough to retell our story and change our dominant narrative from a crippling fear story to that of a healing love story. Few voices are telling our love story. Neither our private media outlets that target consumers of advertised products for the sake of profits and payrolls; nor our social media exchanges that then amplify our private media discourse, right or wrong. Not even a critical mass of our clergy professionals, of which I am also a member.

A fear story, in the sense of a post traumatic reaction, consists of feelings of helplessness.

A love story, in that very same sense of post traumatic response that emerges from the “rational brain” and, dare I conjecture, the “Soul” of the Divine within us, consists of acts of helpfulness.


Love of the stranger or the “other” and the “foreigner” among us.

That, too, is America post 9/11. That, too, is our story and our history. And we must empower our own voices to tell that story. It won’t be told by our private media outlets because it’s not the sizzle that sells the steaks or rewards their executives, boards, and shareholders.

It’s up to us.

We must tell the story of America today and reframe our narrative using our own rational brains and calmer voices! We must tell our own love story! We must remember 9/11 not only for those only who were, like my dear brother-in-law, Charles E. Jones, lost. But for those who are also left. We must remember 9/11 not because we are victims but because we are survivors. Not because we were helpless, but because we were helpful. Not because of our fear, but because of our love.

As a Jesus-follower, my personal study of theology has informed my own belief that Jesus is God’s healing and restorative love story entering into our universal human PTSD and collective fear story. Caused by God’s rational brain that I label Our Father who art in Heaven. Healing our emotional brain’s stress reactive fight or flight instincts some still call sin! Even for those who do not believe with me along such lines, I contend there is a God who loves us and empowers us to be helpful, not helpless, and to live out the good news that we are survivors and not victims. It's perhaps better that we acknowledge effect than cause in such matters.

Everyone has a love story.

The time is now to tell America’s post-9/11 love story.

Who will join me?

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