Silver Linings

The anniversary of September 11, 2001 has brought a resurgence of memories of that day. You’ve no doubt thought about what were you doing when you first heard about the unfolding events, and how your life was different afterwards.

This weekend I heard a native New Yorker talking about how his city was altered by the events of 911. He described drivers pausing to allow in other drivers, folks saying, “Excuse me,” when they bumped into one another in the elevator, and more eye contact between people on the sidewalks. And in the 10 years since, the crime rate in New York City has decreased.

I recall feeling hopeful about our country in the months following the attacks, thinking that this would be a time when we would pull together and hit the volunteer centers, rather than the malls. Flags flew from many homes, and we were all a bit more pensive, less negative, and more prone to appreciate one another. The United States had the support of the world! I felt so fortunate at the time that my parents, who live 3,000 miles away, had a scheduled visit to my home in the Pacific Northwest just a few weeks later. It was such a comfort for me to have a few days with them at a time when I was feeling such unease. And then…. slowly things returned to normal. The flags came down, the malls filled, and America returned to her bullying ways.

But for thousands of people, life would never be the same. Some lost spouses, parents, or other loved ones, and others were emotionally scarred by their experiences. Many of these individuals have not healed, but some, miraculously, have thrived in spite of the trauma and loss. What factors may have aided in these recoveries in the face of such grief, loss, and trauma?

It might just be that many of these individuals hold the belief that, “Every cloud has a silver lining.” Simplistically, this means that every bad situation has some good aspect to it. The silver lining saying was coined by John Milton way back in 1634 and has not lost its power. But how could a person whose husband died in the attacks of 911 possibly bring forth anything good from this horror?

One example is Melodie Homer, whose husband was a pilot on Flight 93 that crashed into a Pennsylvania field that morning. She describes her husband, LeRoy, as a man who dreamed since boyhood of being a pilot. After his death, she started a scholarship fund in his honor. The town of Shanksburg, Pennsylvania pulled together also, and a group of volunteers worked to ensure that visitors to the site of the crash of Flight 93 were met and greeted. This action has no doubt served to strengthen the bonds of this community.  These people turned their grief into positive action.

Exactly how does one work through grief? First of all, I believe it’s critical to allow yourself to fully experience grief in all its stages.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross developed five stages of grief, starting with denial that the loss has occurred. Denial shifts then to anger, with a feeling that you’ve been treated unfairly. Bargaining comes next, with pleas for a miracle such as waking up and finding out that it’s all just a bad dream. After bargaining comes depression, often manifested in a deep sense of hopelessness and despair. During the depression stage, many tears are shed and the grief-stricken wants to be alone. The final stage is acceptance, with renewed strength to face the reality of the loss. One common question is how long it takes to grieve. I often find myself reassuring patients that there’s no set time—we all work through our losses differently. It’s clear, though, that silver linings cannot be discovered until the grieving process has taken place.

In thinking about my own life, it’s interesting to see how losses have turned into silver linings. For example, grief over past pets results in me cherishing my dogs more than ever. And going through the pain of divorce results in me taking care of my own marriage and supporting the new marriages of young people in my life.

Think about yourself? What silver linings have you created from the clouds of life?

Photo by Graur Codrin

This post is part of a collective tribute for September 11th. Click here for more Care2 stories on 9/11.

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nancy r.
Nan R.4 years ago

Thank you for this article

Nancy Mayer
Nancy Mayer4 years ago

We can only hope the rest of the country also realizes a silver lining from 911

Ameer T.
Ameer T.4 years ago

Since this article and others here presuppose that American pain or suffering is greater and takes precedence over the pain and suffering of all other nations, that American losses should be recouped before all others, that American lives are more dear than any other, that Americans have feelings and emotions for their loved ones or those that were lost which no other human can comprehend or match.

I am a humanist. i am human before i am anything else. A solution is only viable, acceptable and appreciative if it adresses all humans; not just caucasions with white skin.

Ameer T.
Ameer T.4 years ago

I can't say becuause it still pretty cloudy over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and Libya. To be fair if anyone is concerned about Americans' healing from an event which by all standards is now dwarfed in the face of the devastation, destruction, pillage, rape and plunder in all countries where it has waged its retributional wars, should also be concerned for the healing of the less fortunate in those countries.

There is nothing that America suffered on 9/11 that these countries have not sufferred since then. What America suffured for a day its nominated enemies endured for ten years. So i think it is slightly insulting to read about healing when so much hurt has been also caused.

If America wants to heal, appologize to the innocents that it destroyed in over 4 countries, return those countries to the best of your abilities to what they were. and forgive them if you still feel they are guilty in the face of all contra-evidence. that should elate you and heal you in itself.

Magdalena K.
Past Member 4 years ago


Kristine Huff
Kristine H.4 years ago

Every cloud does have a silver lining, you just have to be aware of what it is. Simply stepping away from the over hanging dark cloud helps you to see it! It certainly is not easy, but it is possible.

Shirley E.
Shirley E.4 years ago

Since getting made redundant a fortnight ago I've had so many goodwill calls and messages I feel amazing. That's certainly been a silver lining for me.

Catherine C.
Catherine C.4 years ago

I really feel like your article came at a time to benefit my new plan for me and feel like it is a little silver lining. I am grateful to have read it and found it today. I really believe you are very right that the forgiveness is the lining. It can be a tough road to get there.
Thank you!

Bob P.
Bob P.4 years ago

thanks for the article

Mac C.
mac C.4 years ago

I believe, like you explain in the article, that all bad and all good occurences, all our choices make us who we are. Further you explain it's really in the way we look at things that make the tragic or sour situation change or turn around for us. I'm so glad that we are capable of looking every day for the silver lining. I really enjoyed your article and learning this lesson once again.