Flowers and Ashes

My heart is full today for two very different groups of people: everyone who lost someone 14 years ago today; and everyone celebrating a birthday, an anniversary, a victory, or some other milestone today. I guess there might even be people who fall into both groups, which must make today very challenging.

Like everyone, I know where I was and what I was doing when the planes hit the World Trade Center: coloring with sidewalk chalk outside my house on a brilliant fall day with my toddler. When my then-husband pulled up in his car and shouted that a plane had flown into one of the towers, I actually laughed, because I thought for some weird reason I couldn’t fathom that he was joking. Even watching the second tower come down live on television was surreal. For weeks and weeks afterward, my son built towers out of everything he could think of–and knocked them down, repeatedly. I don’t think he understood what had happened, but he knew that it had gotten a big reaction from mom and dad and was processing it in his own way.

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Drowning in Sorrow

Lifeguards will tell you, if you ask, that drowning doesn’t look like you think it does. There’s no yelling, waving, or splashing—and if there is, it’s only for a brief moment that often gets mistaken for having fun.

Photography: Emir Ozsahin

Photography: Emir Ozsahin

Instead, a drowning person looks like they’re standing—they’re literally vertical in the water. Their hands are at their sides, trying to push themselves up by pushing the water down. If you look closely, you might see their lips surfacing now and again. They have only enough energy to exhale and inhale quickly. There’s nothing left with which to cry out.

When I first read a description of this, it seemed oddly familiar. Thankfully, I’ve never witnessed anyone drowning in a body of water. But I have seen more than a few drowning people walking the streets or sitting across from me during a client session.

Someone who’s drowning emotionally looks very much the same as someone drowning physically.

They look like they’re standing—but on the inside, they are curled in a fetal position. They’re not waving around in any obvious manner; their hands are at their sides, or doing normal everyday things. If you look closely, you might see the underlying despair just at the surface now and again. They have only enough energy to breathe and get through the day. There’s nothing left with which to cry out.

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