September 11, 2001, has been described by some as the most photographed series of events in history. One credit union person who knows more about dealing with tragedy and trauma than most of us ever will suggests that all the photos and video and even audio recordings may be of benefit to some, but for those affected most closely by what occurred in New York, at the Pentagon and on an aircraft over the Northeastern U.S., it will do anything but help.
A place that no longer is and people who no longer are will receive unprecedented attention this week as America and the world seek to examine and interpret the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001. As that first anniversary approaches, what many are seeking is the so-called "closure." They're not going to find it any time soon, says that same person. It is said that the only thing that can heal those who have been hurt is time-how much sand must pass through the hourglass differs for each person. But time doesn't erase wounds; it just helps to hide the scars.
"In some ways, some things do become easier," observed Amy Petty.
Seven years ago Petty was blown up in the Oklahoma City bombing by a madman who will get no memorial here. That 1995 blast killed 18 of Federal Employee Credit Union's 33 employees; Petty plunged three stories and was buried by the rubble of the Murrah building for six and a half hours before being dug out as television cameras recorded it all. She says there is no other way to describe her wounds other than to say she lost a "chunk" of her leg; today, she still suffers from numbness. She recognizes that those who survived the Sept. 11 terror attacks, who witnessed the events or who lost someone special, will be feeling a different type of numbness, too.
"What we heard about a lot was the 'new normal.' Your life is never normal again," she explained. "You adjust to whatever the new normal is for you over time. For example, as with a physical injury, over time you become used to it and you compensate."
Petty doesn't need the 8th anniversary of the bombing to arrive next April to be reminded of that morning, when FECU CEO Florence Rogers had just convened a staff meeting. From her office she can see the beautiful remembrance garden built in honor of those killed. "Not a day goes by that I don't think about it," she said. But she also noted, "We don't talk about it like we used to. When we do find ourselves talking about it, it seems harder now to talk about it than it did then. I know it sounds weird, but it feels more emotionally disturbing, more difficult. We're supposed to have this wonderful thing called 'closure.'"
As if she or anyone else in Oklahoma City had something to apologize for, Petty is quick to add, "I don't mean to poor mouth. The people (affected by Sept. 11) have a rough road ahead of them, but you go on. You have to. If you don't you let the terrorists win. It does get better, but parts of your life are forever changed. And no amount of counseling can do anything about that."
"Counseling" is the magic word that almost automatically appears in news stories after events like Oklahoma City or 9/11 or even branch robberies, as if everyone will have a good chat about things and then move on. The talking helps, said Petty; the moving on is another thing.
"I was not a believer. I had to be taken kicking and screaming into counseling," recalled Petty. "But counseling absolutely does help. It becomes very apparent if you talk with a trained person that the way you feel is normal. They tell you, 'This is going to happen to you.' "
On Sept. 11 of 2001, few watched events unfold on TV with a greater range of emotions than did the staff of FECU as it gathered in the break room of the credit union's new offices. "I can't describe what we all felt," Petty said. "The survivors (of the '95 bombing) were all sobbing. It brought it back all over again. For a lot of people, it meant a return to counseling."
In May of this year, Petty went to New York City to speak to an HR conference and to share her story and that of her co-workers. "There were a lot of questions," she said. "I was shaken by that afterward. I realized it had been a while since I had been back to that time and place. For me now, it is more difficult. It shakes you a little bit. "
Like many who live through such trauma, Petty suffers from flashbacks, but noted they don't come nearly as often and that it takes quite a bit to trigger them. September 11, she said, was the "mother lode of triggers" for her and many others. While in New York, firefighters took her to view the World Trade Center site. "I can't describe it," she said. "It was just overwhelming."
Back in Oklahoma City, Petty said she sees members on a near daily basis who survived or were effected by the bombing. Perhaps they lost a spouse or a child.
"We may not discuss it, but I know who they are," she said.
In her case, Petty said it took approximately three years for the scars of all kinds to heal and for the "new normal" to feel, well, the way things are supposed to feel. But that is different for everyone, she acknowledged. "You may feel fine now, but you may also suffer a dramatic setback," she observed. "People want to put it all in a nice, clean tidy box, and it flat out doesn't work that way."
Frank J. Diekmann is editor of The Credit Union Journal. He can be reached at fdiekmann cujournal.com or 888- 832-2929.