Sunday, September 23, 2001

Moving past our fear and anxiety


Attacks lead many to reflect on their lives

By Margaret A. McGurk and Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Normal is not — and may never be — what it was before the morning of Sept. 11.

        Beset by uncertainty and grief, Tristaters are groping to reclaim a sense of normalcy. Yet, they are finding their lives changed by travel disruptions, economic fears and anxieties over safety.

        The threat of more terrorism and promise of warfare has provoked reflection on everything from daily habits to career choices. For many, the shock of the attacks fueled a near-desperate need to connect with family and friends.

        Yet, in conversations this week, one after another voiced resolution to push on.

        On the night of Sept. 11, Emily Kemper of Fort Wright,was driving into Manhattan to begin the last of eight co-op work assignments required for her architecture degree from the University of Cincinnati's school of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning.

        Despite the confusion and sorrow she encountered in New York, the attacks reinforced her confidence in her choice of profession. “It made me more eager to help, in any way that I can,” she said. “Can I be part of that rebuilding process from wherever I am? The answer to that is probably yes.”

        Lee Robinson, a real estate agent in Hyde Park, said he sees evidence of the shock in clients and colleagues.

        “Without them saying it, they are not making a decision,” he said. “They are still going through the motions. We are kind of like mobile zombies now. I didn't get attacked, my offices didn't burn, I am still alive and I am still breathing. But how could you expect anybody to come out and make a housing decision if they don't have to?

        “Part of why we are seeing a slowdown in the economy is we have all been kicked in the gut; we are not going to have the same energy patterns. ... It is certainly going to be true among sales people. You are just not going to be as active. Nor should you be. People have in the back of their mind that life can be very short.”

        Nicholas Muni, Cincinnati Opera artistic director, struggled to explain the news to his children, ages 5 and 12, while coping with his own emotional response.

        “There's more of a caution about long-term commitment,” he said. “It's not a depression, exactly. But it's a grief and a slight hopelessness, because it seems like an unsolvable thing that we're going to be encountering. ... What's making the stock market and people so uneasy is that there's not a clarity about what the solution could be.”        

Safety, travel, family

        Worry about safety has crept into ordinary experiences.

        Stanley Ruby, partner with Schwartz, Manes and Ruby in the 48-story Carew Tower, Cincinnati's highest building, said, “In the past, when they've had fire drills, we never took them seriously. In fact, in the last one, I took the elevator down.” Carew Tower is stepping up its drills, he said, and he plans to pay closer attention.

        Teacher David Bell often travels with Winton Woods High School singers, but said Thursday, “I have to admit, my trip to Columbus today felt a little different, I couldn't get away from the state offices and capital building quickly enough.”

        The terrorism threat and tougher security that will slow air travel are nagging issues on the minds of those who travel for a living, including musicians.

        Singer Noah Hunt is back in Cincinnati on a break from his job with the Louisiana-based Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band. “In a few weeks, I have to get back on a plane and go to Louisiana. I don't know what to do. Maybe I'll just rent a car.”

        The attacks may affect the band's next CD recording, Mr. Hunt said. “We're probably going to make it close to home, maybe Memphis. Maybe New Orleans, somewhere we won't have to take too many planes.”

        Benjamin Smith, a tenor who graduated from UC's College-Conservatory of Music, said his professional life is already different. “As a working singer, travel is an integral part of what we're doing. ... You get on a plane, go to New York for two days, audition and come back. That was one of the advantages of how easy traveling was. That's going to change a lot.”

        But the most immediate effect was personal, he said. “I'm more in love with my family and my friends now than I ever have been.”

        Veteran rocker Peter Frampton, now a resident of Indian Hill, likewise found family concerns overshadowed the disruption of his travel plans. Mr. Frampton said he and his wife, Tina, have had to deal with the effect on their daughter Mia, 5, explaining as gently as possible when she asked, “Why did the planes go into the buildings?”

        Soon after, the Framptons asked Mia's kindergarten teacher what the students' reaction had been. “She said that basically they all came in on the 12th saying, "Did you see what happened?' And a lot of them had it all wrong, kids were saying 17 planes went into 27 buildings. Each time (seeing it on TV) for a child is another one.”        

Where to now?

        Psychologist Kenneth J. Manges, a trauma and career specialist with the Career Wellness Institute downtown, has seen people questioning their work lives.

        “They're thinking of switching careers, about moving to things that are much more rewarding. I'm not talking about monetarily, I'm talking about emotionally rewarding.”

        Whether such introspection will lead to permanent changes remains to be seen, said the Rev. Damon Lynch Jr., pastor of New Jerusalem Baptist Church in Carthage. “A lot of times we get caught up in the moment. Usually when a (crisis) is over, we drift back into our normal way of living, separate and going our own way.”

        Danya Karram of Indian Hill, for one, does not intend to drift backward. A board member of the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati, she has been speaking to groups, “trying to educate, so that when we do make decisions, at least we make informed decisions.”

        Personally, she said, “I'm addicted to the media right now. The reason I continue to listen to the radio, watch television and read everything is, I'm not ready to let go of that raw emotion. I think it's important to hold onto it for a while and learn from it.”

        The urge to share is a recurring theme.

        Former assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Zealey, now a partner with Blank Rome Comisky and McCauley, said, “I'm hugging all my friends and family more. I almost feel like a survivor in a way. I guess the main thing is an incredible bond that I feel now with everyone else, including Arab-Americans that are suffering from threats.”

        In Fort Mitchell, the attack inspired Kathy Brown to assemble 10 friends and neighbors — some of whom she barely knew — to sit by an outdoor pit fire, eat bean soup and corn bread, and talk long into the night.

        “We've all felt very threatened by what happened. I just thought people needed to talk,” says Ms. Brown, a financial adviser.

        “For some reason I really felt this need to extend myself to people around me. I think I just wanted to let people know that we need to get to know each other and be there for each other.”

        Running through the general anguish was a thread of anger that fueled resolve.

        David Michael of Clifton was performing with the New York City Opera the week the terrorists struck.

        “I've always been aware that in an open society you can be vulnerable, and you have to be on your guard,” he said “I'm sure I'll be a little more cautious, but I'm not going to let it stop me.

        “I'm not going to let these slimeballs, these cowards affect my psyche where I can't live as a free American.”

        Pamela Schneider of Wyoming took her first airplane ride in 18 years last month.

        “Fear kept me from living, from getting on an airplane for 18 years,” she said. “I decided it was time to get on with my life and get over the fear.”

        Once she boarded a flight, she said, “I was not afraid. I am determined now that I will not let fear of any kind hold me back anymore. I hope that the airlines are more secure, but it's not going to stop me from flying. I won't let those sons-of-guns keep me from living.

        “I feel much tougher. Much tougher. I always thought that I could never go to war; I was too chicken, I didn't want to die. But now, I could see myself dying for this country.”

       John Johnston and Larry Nager contributed.

       

       



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