Where I am on 9/11

Where I am on 9/11

Every year I write about 9/11. Because I was there. But this year, I didn’t want to. But then I woke up today and decided that I want to.

I didn’t want to write about it because I’m sick of it. I don’t want to keep identifying with it. I think maybe I needed to when I didn’t feel like I really belonged on a farm and I didn’t feel like I belonged in New York and I needed some way to explain to myself how I got to where I am lost.

But I’m not lost now.

My kids ask me about 9/11.

Their questions remind me of how I would ask my parents during the Vietnam war, “What is Viet Cong?”, which is a similar question to “Was there one plane or two?”.

I answer their questions. And they are prying often enough that I tell my story more now than ever. So I probably don’t need to keep telling the story on this blog. (Although there are some 9/11 posts that I love to link to, like a seasonal ritual. Here’s one.)

I woke up late this morning. Because I took a sleeping pill. It’s the type of pill that was designed specifically for post-traumatic stress so I don’t wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares.

I wouldn’t know when I need that pill if it hadn’t been for the 9/11 PTSD counselor who told me my childhood was way worse for me than 9/11.

I woke up this morning thinking that there is no way to separate myself from 9/11. The urge to not write about it reminds me of the urge people have to quit one blog to start another, which is really the urge to not have to deal with a part of oneself.

For all of you who are planning to write to me to ask if you should quit one blog and start another, let me tell you that it’s much more meaningful to understand how the two types of blogging belong together. Because both types of writing are part of you. And the process shows you how you become an integrated person.

It’s always better for you to be able to integrate different parts of yourself with a story. Stories are how we make ourselves whole.

Elie Wiesel wrote, “God made man because he loves stories.”

I don’t know if the he is God or the he is man. But either way, I like that Wiesel makes stories the focus of the creative act.

Wiesel got through the Holocaust by telling stories, which tells me we can get through anything by telling stories. So none of us should stop talking about major events because they are too hard, or because we can’t make sense of them. Both reasons are when it’s most important to keep spinning stories.

This reminds me of how every time I hear that someone quits therapy because they aren’t making progress, I know they really quit therapy because it’s very hard to talk about ourselves if we can’t tell a story of how we got there.

I’ve written about how this is true in a resume. If you can’t tell the story of how you got to where you are, you are unlikely to convince someone to hire you. We connect to the world by telling the story of ourselves.

The stories we tell are a window into our personalities. Dan P. McAdams says in Handbook of Personality: “Whether aimed at finding meaning in yesterday’s conversation around the water cooler or in a 15-year marriage that ended two decades ago, autobiographical reasoning is an exercise in personal integration—putting things together into a narrative pattern that affirms life meaning and purpose.”

I can’t make sense of my own life without including 9/11. I’m tired of talking about it. But that just means I need to start talking about it in a different way. My story can change. Our stories always change. They don’t go away.

So, this year, my story is that I probably always knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that I belonged in a rural setting. But it took 9/11 to get me to see that clearly enough to take action. Today I am fortunate to be where I belong. That story might change, but I hope my story always ends with me feeling like I’m where I belong.

32 replies
  1. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I just completed my own PTSD therapy. Someone in my past who was supposed to love me abused me instead. It took me years and years to be willing to integrate that into my overall story, and to assign meaning to it. Doing that let me move on, really move on. I didn’t understand the deep meaning of moving on until I integrated the abuse into my story and found meaning in it.

    But like you say, I’m now tired of talking about what happened. At the same time, what happened is so important to who I am that I still feel like I have to talk about it.

  2. jenn
    jenn says:

    lovely, lovely post; thank you; there’s a reason i forward this blog to my 22 and 19 y/o, but today this is for me. Tx.

  3. Jet
    Jet says:

    I absolutely love the photo on this post. The words and the links go without saying. Nobody tells it like you do.
    That being said, I absolutely love the photo.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thank you for noticing the photo. I work really hard at getting better at pictures. I spend a lot of time reading about famous photographers and what made them great, and I keep trying to find my voice — like, I’m sure there is a visual voice that we have just like there is a written voice. I am trying to find that.


  4. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    Your post today about your PTSD made me think of the new research which involves using MDMA-assisted psychotherapy to cure PTSD in veterans.

    Maybe this will be useful to some of your readers:

    “It’s not clear how MDMA may help patients recover from PTSD. Imaging studies of PTSD have shown increased activity in the amygdala, the fear center of the brain, and decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex and in the hippocampus. Essentially, three parts of the brain are operating irregularly, which prevents people with PTSD from processing everyday experiences normally. However, once people take MDMA, there’s increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, and decreased activity in the amygdala — it basically evens out the scale so proper therapy can be done, Mithoefer says.”

    According to http://www.mdmaptsd.org/, it’s not a temporary fix– participants still experience benefits years after the therapy.

  5. Rickee Mahoney
    Rickee Mahoney says:

    I always loved History class because it was telling the story of how things will come to be tomorrow. My daughter will be a writer, it is her life blood. I am happy about this in that she will tell our stories, good and bad. I lived in DC in 2001. Five miles from Pentagon, house shook, “like an elephant was dropped on it,” according to my husband. Cried this morning while watching news re-cast at 8:56 am. Still cry at hurricane destruction videos having also lived in Miami during Andrew in one of worst hit neighborhoods.

    I wondered to day, how long it would have to be to stop talking about 9/11.

  6. Laura
    Laura says:

    I am glad you wrote in your blog today. 9/11 is part of all of our stories-a generation who lost their innocents that day. 9/11 changed my life completely. I was a flight attendant. I saw traveling the world, no kids, a vagabond life as my future. Now I am planted in soil – a mother of 2 children. I tell the story to my kids every year and remind myself how lucky I am to have gotten here.
    September Roses by Jeanette Winter is a nice kids book, by the way.

  7. christine
    christine says:

    I am sparked by your blog posts. But today, I am moved to write to you.
    I heard you and feel inspired to write my resume. I have been procrastinating it because of blah, blah, blah. But reframing my resume to tell the story of how I got to where I am feels interesting to share. Thank you for that. And my wishes for any lingering PTSD to heal – I can’t imagine what that was like for you or anyone.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I’m glad you wrote that. A resume is a form of self-discovery. And a way to understand who we are. I know a lot of people think of a resume as something stupid – a hoop to jump through, a form to fill out — but I see it as a medium for telling stories, just like a blog or a book or a painting.


  8. me
    me says:

    Dear P: Thank you for always finding a way to remember 9/11 with us. It truly wouldnt be the same without hearing (reading?) your voice today, of all days ….

    Peace, sister.

  9. JML
    JML says:

    I totally needed to read this today. I am struggling with my own story and everything in this post resonated to my core. Thank you.

    I love the Weisel quote. The ambiguity of it makes it that much more powerful. Then I thought of this John Berger quote that I often turn to:

    “We are both storytellers. Lying on our backs, we look up at the night sky. This is where stories began, under the aegis of that multitude of stars which at night filch certitudes and sometimes return them as faith. Those who first invented and then named the constellations were storytellers. Tracing an imaginary line between a cluster of stars gave them an image and an identity. The stars threaded on that line were like events threaded on a narrative. Imagining the constellations did not of course change the stars, nor did it change the black emptiness that surrounds them. What it changed was the way people read the night sky.”

  10. harris497
    harris497 says:


    You, I and probably anyone else feel belonging when we are in a place that allows us to combine commitment to something with incremental success at that endeavor. You feel belonging on the farm because it allows you to be everything you want/are committed to being, and you feel the reward of being successful at that vocation. Everyone needs a vocation – ideally not just their children, but it can be if managed right. This is why the happiest people are those devoted to a non-static cause; they have a sense of purpose and are rewarded by incremental successes.
    You’ve found your cause and really its to help others find theirs… no wonder you’re happier.
    Oh and thank you.

  11. Dannielle Blumenthal
    Dannielle Blumenthal says:

    Beautifully said: —-> “Wiesel got through the Holocaust by telling stories, which tells me we can get through anything by telling stories. So none of us should stop talking about major events because they are too hard, or because we can’t make sense of them.” Also Shana Tova.

  12. Jana
    Jana says:

    9/11 woke me up to the fact that I wanted to homeschool. But it wasn’t out of fear of the world-it was about not wanting to have any regrets about how I had raised my kids. I wanted to take them places and share the world with them outside the walls of a school and school scedule.

  13. Jean
    Jean says:

    I’m saddened that after all this time, you still rely on pills to sleep at night. There are so many better ways to treat PTSD; the doctor who has prescribed them to you should be ashamed of himself . If those pills haven’t helped heal you after 10 years, do you think they’re going to heal you in 10 more? If you can’t sleep, it’s a sign that there are things that need to be taken care of during the day that you aren’t doing. So that means you’re going to have to stop doing some of the things you are currently doing and take care of the things that your body actually needs: walking outside barefoot, getting lots of sunlight, sex, naps, meditation, fresh fruits and vegetables. Amethysts are also very powerful tools to help facilitate sleep. And cut back on all that screen time, especially after the Sun Goes Down. Your brain has not evolved to have such light exposure so late. The lights are telling your brain it’s time to stay awake and your body doesn’t know when to fall asleep until hours after you shut it off.

  14. Kathleen Kurke
    Kathleen Kurke says:

    I read today’s post because of the photo. Your eyes are at peace in the photo. Not generally what I see in photos of you. You wear it well.
    As for our stories, I’ve come to believe that time is the connective tissue between seemingly not connected events. When I am in a place where I experience my circumstances as being at an odd angle, I know I jut have to give it time. Time takes time.

  15. me
    me says:

    I love the way you write about stories & how we choose to tell them, even if/as they change over time. Feeling content & that I am where I need to be is something to strive for.

    So, I’ll definitely keep your thoughtful words in mind: ~”I hope my story always ends with me feeling like I’m where I belong.”

  16. jestjack
    jestjack says:

    IMHO….this is one those points in time…where we will always remember where we were and what we were doing on 9/11….when the 1st plane hit and then with the news coverage of the 1st plane on site….the second one hitting the other tower…..and then the collapse. I was an outside sales rep for a sign company and had a meeting with the GM when he waved me into a room with a big screen TV that morning. We were watching the coverage of the 1st plane when out of no where appeared a second that slammed into the second tower….We were both jarred and stunned….I immediately went to pick up DD1 from college and upon arriving was greeted by the Police who had taken possession of part of the campus to place sharp shooters in the schools towers which were one of the highest if not the highest vantage point of the city. Traffic was unreal but somehow orderly. We made it home safely and then the quiet the next day of no planes in the air…..the “eerie quiet”…the unease. I for one will forever be grateful to George Bush for his leadership and resolve during this time. I can only imagine what he went thru at the time. Say what you want but landing on a carrier deck while on maneuvers during war time took guts. Somehow I don’t see Hilary doing that….BUT though action was taken….for the life of me …. I don’t get it. As memory serves the folks that did this were almost all of Saudi Arabian decent BUT instead of holding Saudi Arabia responsible and invading them….We attack Iraq….a former ally basically who fought a long war against Iran (our sworn enemy)…because the leader made some remarks and threats. He paid for those remarks with his life… And many years later another madman…Bin Laden… was killed while living in plain sight in another US ally’s country….Pakistan…days after that Country swore they did not know of his whereabouts. Yes 9/11 happened….it was tragic…we’ll never forget….But we’ve learned nothing…

  17. Amy Parmenter
    Amy Parmenter says:

    Thank you for sharing your story in such a way that it resonates with us all.

    I too hope you will always feel as though you are where you belong. What an amazing place to be as we welcome a New Year. Shana Tova Penelope.

    Amy Parmenter

  18. Amy Silveira
    Amy Silveira says:

    Your post today — 9/11/15 — really resonated with me — I was in Manhattan on 9/11 and shortly after moved to rural California — where I grew up and my family lives.

    I share your “over-ness” with it and resolved not to talk about it with anyone this year …and yet thought about it almost immediately after waking up this morning.

    I’ve been going through a lot of change lately and sometimes when I first wake up I get a panicked feeling — centered around the thought — “can I deal with this?”

    I’ve been dealing with it by listing all the things I’m grateful for — and I realized that moving back to California was one of them — something I may never have done if not for 9/11 .

    And this reminded me of stories from survivors of Hurricane Katrina. On the 10th anniversary a few weeks ago on NPR and in the New Yorker they had all these “personal accounts” of survivors — a lot of them said it was a tragic event but ultimately changed their lives for the better.

    Which lead me to think about exactly what you wrote — about how stories change over time.

    And this “My story can change. Our stories always change. They don’t go away.”

  19. Susan
    Susan says:

    This is so true for me as well: “there is no way to separate myself from 9/11.”
    It changed my world, how close I hold my loved ones, everything. I still cry every year. I too wonder when I will be “over it,” but as it was such a big catalyst in my life, maybe I never will. And since I’m mostly happy with where I am right now, that’s ok.

  20. Seb Brantigan
    Seb Brantigan says:

    Really appreciate you posting about this Penelope it is still a sensitive subject for a lot of Americans…at the time it was on the news 24/7 here in the UK. I would say that the only good thing about this happening (hey being positive thinking and all) is the unity such events create between communities and cities.

  21. Mysticaltyger
    Mysticaltyger says:

    I see my comments were deleted. Maybe some day Americans will start understanding that their own government was complicit in 9/11 and that it was planned decades in advance of it happening. For people who want to know the truth, you can find plenty of evidence on YouTube.

  22. Karol
    Karol says:

    9/11 – I remember watching it in telly back then, and not believing. Over the time, it got dusted a bit, but memories still remain. It’s always hard to explain old tragedy to some younger generations. When I was younger they were telling me about WWII. Nowadays there are different issues all around the world. Where this world is heading… Thank you or sharing.

  23. Esther
    Esther says:

    What drug is that? Im thinking of asking my psychiatrist to try me out on “the type of pill that was designed specifically for post-traumatic stress so I don’t wake up in the middle of the night from nightmares.”

    Thanks for being candid about the urge to write, not write, tell/dwell, not tell/dwell.

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