Apocalypse, Now

After terror came out of the sky on that beautiful September morning, we kicked into what has become, in our nation, predictable response mode — outpourings of grief, proclamations of outrage, donations of blood, fervent fund raising, round-the-clock news updates, official oaths to extract revenge (and, as we go to press, military offensives). All justified and appropriate, to be sure, but it’s important to remember that what happened that day wasn’t routine, and that we can’t reach into our library of scripted responses to make the hurt go away. You may find comfort, as I did, not in the oceans of platitudes gushing from politicians or TV news anchors or even spiritual leaders but in the small rituals of everyday life and, every now and then, quiet reflection. Here are some healing techniques:

Resist lassitude

At the Council of Logistics Management’s annual conference this year, attendance was down by more than half. Participants were somber. Sessions that in the past would have been thronged were sparsely attended. Yet the people who had made the effort to be there probably realized that sometimes, merely sticking to a routine, no matter how trivial, helps bring order to chaos.

Resist images and icons

The press eagerly seizes on words or slogans that serve as a quick reference to an event: what are called “slugs” in the trade. Hence “U.S. under attack,” “A nation challenged,” or “Attack response” — labels that categorize the incident and shelve it neatly under “Terrorism.” Once again, we’re being the consummate consumers that the rest of the world resents us so much for. Remember that the only response to the latest national tragedy that makes any sense is a personal one.

Talk to one another

They didn’t teach you this at Harvard Business School. Even weeks after the attacks, office workers all across the country found that they simply couldn’t get back to business as usual. People came in to work but spent most of the day huddling with co-workers and rehashing the news. Talking fosters the sense of community that few of us had in our “normal” lives before the event.

Read

For generations, the printed word has provided solace during times of crisis. Russians read War and Peace during World War II, and it’s no coincidence that W. H. Auden’s poem about the start of that war, “September 1, 1939,” has been widely circulated since the attacks. Some memorable lines: “Waves of anger and fear/Circulate over the bright/And darkened lands of the earth,/Obsessing our private lives;/The unmentionable odour of death/Offends the September night.”

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