Editor’s Note: The essay below was written in 2002 and appears in the self-published book, Through Our Eyes: A Tapestry of Words and Images in Response to September 11. Printed and distributed in 2002, the book was the result of an independent, volunteer documentary project organized by a journalist and several friends. The author’s bio was written in 2002 and has not been updated.
Sara McCauley Slack is a wise, intuitive and bold woman who has a gift for guiding people when they cannot see the way. Sara, 52, was born in Evansville, Indiana. After living in London, Illinois, Colorado, Ohio and Arizona, she now lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she works as an art therapist. She has two daughters, Megan and Jennifer. Sara’s interest include nature, gardening and the arts. She has traveled through most of the United States, along with England and Costa Rica. Her religion: Integrity. On the morning of Sept. 11, Sara was at home and heard about the attacks on her way to her daughter’s house. She created her chalk drawing, called “Through the Looking Glass,” several years ago and wrote her essay July 30.
That particular morning is crystal clear in my mind, but the days, weeks, months after are a blur of swirling debris. I awoke that morning with an extremely sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I assumed it was connected to the trauma I was experiencing at work, but it was absolutely the most overwhelming sense of fear that I can ever recall experiencing. I went to my pond and meditated. When I could not shake the feeling, I sensed that something must be wrong with my daughter. I immediately showered and dressed, loaded my briefcase and headed to her house. My gut told me there was no time to call first, I just had to see her and be reassured that she was OK. Then I would call my other daughter in Portland and check on her.
Normally, the first thing I do in the morning is turn the radio OFF. I like to listen to NPR on my way home from work, but not in the morning. I can’t start my day with “issues”; I absorb enough suffering during a regular workday. As I ripped out of my garage, I heard, what I thought to be, a clip from a new movie. As I sped through residential streets, barely paying attention to the radio, I thought … How could NPR advertise something like this??!! God, doesn’t anyone have any integrity anymore!? Don’t humans deal with enough trauma??! I WAS PISSED OFF. I was reaching to push the button when I realized it was real, not a movie clip. My daughters were OK, but I am not.
IT IS REAL, NOT A MOVIE. Each and every day, I deal with terrorism. The terrorists are not from the Middle East, they are from the Mid West, USA. The terrorists I face each day are neglectful, and often, abusive parents and “systems.” I work as an art therapist in a public school system. I spend my day with adolescents who have grown up with terrorism and have developed their own form of terrorist behavior. Even if my “kids” have fairly peaceful lives at home, they are terrorized by guns, fights, bomb threats, and terrorists at their school. The terrorists and their “trainers” hold everyone hostage. What if our nation allowed the terrorist trainers to sue us because the consequences for the terrorist’s actions may damage the terrorist’s self-esteem? Imagine the American public’s reaction if the school staff overtook the terrorists in the schools as the passengers did on flight #93! Wow! That would get the public’s attention! But, the public would not be calling anyone a hero!
I actually created this image while in grad school. It was a different situation, a different decade, but the same emotional content, the same frustration and sense of futility. My image symbolizes what every human must do … get out the magnifying glass and take a good hard look at REALITY. Take a good hard look at REASON. Take a good hard look at TRUTH. Look at the absurdity. We are a people stuck in a NATIONAL DENIAL SYSTEM (news analyst’s coined phrase). We are a society entrenched in addictive behaviors, lacking any personal insight and blaming anyone and everyone else for one’s own lack of personal responsibility. We are a society dominated by “the good ‘ol boys” system of loyalty with self-gratification as the primary agenda. Yeah … just like any garden-variety drunk or addict … an addicted society. It is so easy to profile and blame a dark-skinned foreigner with weird religious beliefs for our national fear. It is so easy to point the finger and ignore the three pointing back. We need to look closer. Our real enemy, our real fear, is right under our noses.
Every day, school personnel risk their lives in the line of duty, figuratively and literally speaking, but there is no special recognition. Instead, funding is cut, the troops are forced to do triple duty with no combat pay, the terrorists and their trainers are given more power, and the American people sit around with their thumbs up their noses asking, “DA, what is wrong with kids … education … DA, it must be the shitty schools and shitty teachers.”
Remarkably, the World Trade Center stayed intact longer than one would expect considering the enormous impact. Our nation’s children and educational system, too, have held up well considering the magnitude of the terrorist attacks. The “training camps” are right next-door, but we don’t seem to care. The only thing that captures the attention of Americans is seeing a 110-story building crash to the ground, killing over 2,000 people. At least that many young Americans die each week in our country from terrorist attacks … their peers.
After September 11, 2001, I particularly recall doing art therapy with a young man who had been severely abused. All of the children I worked with after 9-11 made drawings of situations that were out of their control. “M,” a twelve-year-old, labored for over an hour making a detailed drawing of the World Trade Center. There was a small flame coming out of a window of one of the buildings and an airplane ready to hit the other building. For many of my “kids,” the horror of the World Trade Center is the first time they have witnessed something that even comes close to expressing what they have experienced as young children growing up. “M’s” drawing represented a symbol of his sense of impending disaster … a fire was already burning in one building (M had a history of setting fires) and the plane was poised and ready to hit the untouched building. A few days later, M’s plane hit and he pulled a knife on a neighborhood child.
“M” is extremely intelligent, polite, articulate, and is a gifted visual artist. No one meeting him would suspect that the twin towers of his conscious and subconscious are under attack. “M” is not an isolated case, he is not an exception. There are no million-dollar funds being collected for children like “M.” There is no massive public outcry from the American citizens yelling, “God Bless the Children.” No one is posting banners in their shop windows, or flying flags on their vehicles that say, “Children … Love ’em or Leave ’em!”
If a person has an I.Q. of 80 and can read at a third-grade level, they would realize the terror of what is happening in this country, but no one seems to, certainly not our “leaders.” Our government is not appropriating money and sending in troops to “fight this form of terrorism.” There are not nearly enough mental health professionals and caseworkers to handle the volume of new child abuse cases each day. Yep, a caseworker is not “right on top” of child abuse case and becomes the “bad guy” when a child is killed by a parent or disappears.
HELLO PEOPLE ???!! I compare this to sending 20 firefighters into the Colorado National Forest armed with squirt guns, or sending 100 military people to the Middle East to hunt down terrorists, but armed with pocketknives and B-B guns! And, I might add, with no ground support, no air support, no public support, NO SUPPORT. No reasonable person, even with an I.Q. of 80, would expect the job to get done. Only an idiot would place blame on the firefighter or the military if they were expected to do their jobs under these circumstances.
No, these children aren’t 110 stories high and they don’t represent world financial market … or do they? I could not have written this 10 months ago. There was just too much terrorism to deal with at the time…