Sun-Sentinel – Sept 27, 2001 – Jonathon King – Whom did you call last week? Whom did you need to talk with after Sept. 11?

Yes, the relatives in New York. Yes, the friend in Manhattan. But the old college roommate in Tallahassee? The ex-wife in Colorado? The goddaughter in Albany?

“I found myself making appointments with all different friends, just to see them, to ask them how they’re doing,” said Valerie Goodwin, of Atlanta, who began contacting friends in South Florida and around the country after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“Some of them I’ve honestly been feeling guilty about not seeing. What I found was a need to re-establish our connection with each other. Wanting all of a sudden to do more, to be more to the people I know.”

When the World Trade Center towers went down, the Pentagon was speared, the Pennsylvania countryside scorched, the sudden loss of life more than shocked us.

It scared. It angered. It fomented patriotism. It scrambled our priorities.

More than 6,000 people like us — sitting at their desks, riding an elevator, sipping a cup of morning coffee — were swallowed up in a bloom of fire and smoke. In seconds, they were gone. We watched in on TV. It was personal and a horrific reminder for many people how fragile are the bonds that connect human beings to one another.

“Nothing like this has ever occurred in American history, live, right in front of our faces,” said Dr. John F. Murray, a clinical and sport psychologist in South Florida. “We know of evidence of vicarious trauma that people experience, something they witness that is so powerful it jolts them. And people cope with trauma in various ways, and one of the ways is in fact to get in touch with people.”

From her Hollywood home, Janet Varca-Winer called her mom in New York. Then her sisters in New England and Tennessee. Then her son a few miles away.

“I had to connect with people. I’m still calling friends. I have to hear them on the other end of the line,” said Varca-Winer. “I even made up with my sister, and I don’t even remember what we were fighting about.”

Mending fences when you cannot personally mend bodies. Carrying away buckets of guilt when you cannot carry away debris. Craving humanity when you’ve seen such horrendous acts of inhumanity. Sharing voices when so many other voices are a one-way connection.

“I only know Dan Rather because he’s in my living room each night. But that’s a monologue. After something like this, we need to talk to people, have a dialogue to get reassurance that our opinion is worth hearing,” said Dr. Diann Michael, president of the Broward County Psychological Association.

“People are reaching out. It’s one of the positive responses in how Americans are handling this.”

In some cases, callers aren’t just reconnecting. For those who feel guilt over some relationship, it’s a chance to express regret and hope for absolution.

Michael said her own daughter, who had not had much contact with her father over the years, sent him an e-mail in Paris after the attacks, just to let him know she was all right. He e-mailed her back.

Strains in relationships take a back seat in the wake of the kind of trauma we saw on the 11th.

“It made you want to make peace, even on an individual level,” said Charlotte Danciu, an attorney in Boca Raton.

After the attacks, she called her fiancee’s ex-wife to talk about how they were going to fly his children to South Florida. Before, the children flew on their own.

“But neither of us were willing to do that now. We actually had a very nice conversation,” Danciu said. “I think that kind of broad concern among people has smoothed out some rifts. It’s unfortunate that it takes this kind of event to bring people together.”

Sept. 11 changed us. Our mortality has never been so evident.

“It wasn’t just a terrible accident,” said Wendy Masi, dean of the Nova Southeastern University Family Center. “We can’t say, `Oh this is terrible, but it happened somewhere else and it can’t happen here.’ When you feel that kind of mortality, you reconnect, you forgive, you ask yourself, `Why did I spend so much time at the office? Why did I lose touch with that friend?'”

Whom did you call last week?

“I don’t think any of us understand our emotions with this,” said Masi. “We were so unprepared, our responses are hard to chart.

“But some people are going to cancel their plane tickets, some are going to go out and buy a gas mask, some are going to call an old friend.”


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Memo: Informational box at end of text.
Edition: Broward Metro
Section: LOCAL
Page: 1A

Copyright 2001 Sun-Sentinel Company
Record Number: 0109270165

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