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In The Wake Of Terrorism

By Karen H Whiting
Guest Writer


CBN.comA pebble drops into a pool of water, causing concentric circles of ripples. The central splash is the highest and most dramatic one. Others, though less defined, touch a wider area, until the waves reach shore. So, too there has been a ripple effect from the events of 911 in our lives.

News of the terrorist strike shattered Jessica’s world. She and her friends had spent the previous week interviewing for law internships at prestigious firms, including several in the World Trade Center. Attending law school at Columbia University, in New York City, seemed like a dream come true. She shuddered as she realized she and her friends had narrowly missed being victims.

The ripple effect of 911 splashed into the life of Ryan, a college student, when he saw the television footage of the World Trade Center attack and thought, That’s the flight dad pilots. Where is he? Far from home, in a fraternity house, at this moment he just wanted to be with his family.

Ryan grabbed the phone and dialed home but the machine answered.

“Hi, Mom, where’s Dad?” Ryan blurted out but could not say anything else, as a lump formed in his throat. He hung up, raced to his car and drove to a nearby church where he cried and prayed. Later, he shouted with relief when he heard his dad had flown flight 93 two days earlier and now sat safe at home.

A few months later, Ryan heard the news that someone had stormed the cockpit of a United Airline’s flight and new waves of anxiety washed over him. Again he called home to learn his dad had flown that flight two days earlier.

Our country’s war on terrorism brought fighting and more death, that extended the circles of waves further outward. In March, months after the terrorist strike, Sheila played with her two young children at a park, then stopped to visit a friend. She heard that a soldier in the Third Special Forces had been killed in Afghanistan. She thought It’s Stan, my husband, I just know it’s Stan.

Sheila returned home. A few hours later truck tires crunched across the gravel drive. She watched through the window as two soldiers in military dress uniform emerged from a black SUV. Her hands shook as she opened the door and received the news that her husband, Chief Stanley Harriman was the first soldier killed in Afghanistan in ground combat.

Ripples Of Terrorism

The ripples of terrorism that forever changed the lives of Jessica, Ryan, and Sheila overflowed into the lives of most Americans. Christian psychiatrist Dr. Cynthia Spellman indicates that initially the devastation of 911 and subsequent anthrax scare brought stress to many, but crisis to other victims of violence who had suppressed past experiences. Trauma in life from other sources can trigger post trauma syndrome or posttraumatic stress disorder. Within three months, these heightened fears and anxieties toned down as people’s defense mechanisms helped them process emotions and they took actions that helped them cope.

Several months after the attack, psychiatrists noticed a new wave of patients, diagnosed with somatizing disorder. Having repressed the reality of violence, these people later had physical symptoms of sleeplessness and vague pains, with no clear medical problems. Though delayed, this group slowly started to seek solid answers through spiritual or professional counsel.

People first sought comfort at churches where some found Christ and stayed. Americans rallied together with a new spirit of patriotism and gave to relief organizations. Others attempted to increase feelings of personal security by purchasing gas masks, cell phones, and emergency supplies. Most people adjusted to changes in life, such as added wait time and new security measures at airports.

Disruption to still water can have positive effects, keeping it from stagnating. In this country, some of the reactions to the anxiety caused by terror have been good, such as cherishing family more and an increase in patriotism.

Americans have shown more appreciation for public servants since September, especially firefighters. Police and firemen toys quickly became the most popular items in toy stores. Shop windows displayed signs expressing thanks for public servants.

Their heroism showed us what it means to sacrifice. Public gratitude strengthened these workers’ morale while the crisis bolstered their sense of purpose.

President Bush, a man of faith, continues to announce that in a free country there are no guarantees against future attacks. He has spoken about the importance of his faith in facing troubled times.

In the midst a storm a person can still feel inner peace from God’s presence. Jesus spoke of this peace in which people can feel secure even in unsafe circumstances when he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Anxiety reveals a lack of faith but it is also a natural reaction for self-preservation. It keeps people from foolish actions, like standing too near the edge of a cliff. However, unhealthy worry and fear causes medical problems and interferes with the ability to function at work or home.

Christ pointed out that believers cannot escape tribulation (John 16:33). Thus, we need to learn to cope with the threat of more terrorism. Try these strategies.

Pro-active Strategies For Relieving Anxiety

Have faith in God! Be active in Bible study and fellowship. Memorize scriptures that bring comfort. Check a concordance for verses on assurance, safety, comfort, and salvation. Trust God to be with you when He does not remove you from trouble. Discover new strength as you read how biblical characters and others overcame fears through faith. This is called bibliotherapy.

Don’t be a loner. Discuss problems with friends, in person, by phone, or via email. Build a network, especially in your church community. The apostle Paul shared in letters and with his travel companions (1 Corinthians 16:17-18).

Chief Harrimen’s widow, Sheila, knows that God prepared her to face the tragedy of death through a faith that knows Heaven is real. She received great support from the Arran Lake Baptist Church community where she and her husband, as active and beloved members, had developed close friendships. Army families attached to her husband’s unit have also rallied around to help sustain her.

Dwell on the positives. List methods that help you relax, such as jogging, a hot shower, listening to a favorite CD, reading a Psalm, or pursuing a special hobby. Add to the list as you recall other relaxing activities and do the activities when you feel anxious. Include laughter, too. Watch comedy shows, read comics, and spend time with joyful friends. Laughter, called good medicine in Proverbs 17:22, reduces levels of stress hormones.

Jessica visited relatives in Boston days after 911 to help relieve her anxiety by seeing a beautiful and unharmed city. She finds it best to avoid thinking about the possibility of future terrorism and instead focuses on her studies. Jessica chose a summer internship in Boston, giving her time away from the intensity of being so near the epicenter of the destruction.

Care for yourself. Eat healthy. Get plenty of rest and exercise to produce beta-endorphin hormones that help relieve stress. Being in good physical shape can keep stress from turning into distress.

Continue routines of normal life. You will find solace through familiar habits.

Be grateful. Each morning thank God for at least three blessings. Ryan changed his thinking and heart attitude since last September. He feels thankful for his family’s safety, stating, “I realize what I could have lost in the tragedy and it made me realize I need to cherish what I have.” God is more important than ever before, and Ryan also feels thankful for the government’s efforts with new safety measures and armed national guards at airports.

Do something positive for other people, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter or a hospice center. Giving to people less fortunate increases a sense of gratitude and helps a person feel like they have some control.

From her window at Columbia University, Jessica saw smoke for weeks. A trip last November to ground zero reminded her of the horror resulting from hatred. Jessica joined an environmental clinic studying the health impact from the damages and feels better because she is spending time helping.

Tell others about Christ. Some people feel anxiety at unexpected deaths, because of guilt that they failed to witness to others. When anyone talks about anxiety, let it become an opening to share your faith.

God gave Sheila many opportunities in the past few months to witness, on national TV, radio, and at local churches. She chose to respond and reach out with the hope filled message, “My husband died so you could have freedom, but Jesus died so you could have eternal freedom.”

Thousands of notes and cards sent to Sheila let her know that her words touch lives and make a difference. Through the tragedy Sheila has been comforted in seeing her sister and Stanley’s brother both accept Christ and commit their lives to God.

As the ripples of troubled waters extend outward until finding a boundary, people also reach out for something solid to grab in times when violence disrupts peace. The solid foundation to clutch is Christ, our rock, and His words, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33).

Karen H Whiting is an author and speaker. For more information visit Secrets of Success for Women . This article first appeared in The Lookout in 2002

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