Twenty years ago, Bernard Simon Jr. complained to his parents about the images flashing on television all day everyday. Why do they keep showing those planes exploding into the buildings, ranted the 10-year-old, clearly distressed by the non-stop coverage of the attacks on the Twin Towers in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. At that moment his mother realized she had lost her “baby,” shut off the TV, and turned her attention to her youngest, the only boy in her brood of three.
How did the recurring shots make the child feel?
“Sad,” “shocked” and “scared” tumbled from the lips of the ‘tween as he curled in his mother’s comforting arms.
He was not alone, she said, assuring him that his father, who had fled Cuba to be free from the communist takeover, harbored the same mixed feelings. She herself had joined her parents and siblings in the United States as political unrest simmered in their native Philippines at the height of the Marcos dictatorship and military rule. Were they truly safer in their adopted country?
New Americans like Maria (Nieva) and Bernard Simon Sr. had witnessed life-changing strife and knew in their hearts life would go on after the first terrorist assault on the homeland. On that day, however, their US-born children shed their innocence, their sense of security in shreds. They learned the meaning of vulnerability – their personal space, their orbit violated, their future in question.
Children who witness trauma directly or vicariously are twice likely to become perpetrators or victims, we’ve heard behavior experts say. Without guidance, they could grow up nurturing hatred for those who share anything in common with the assailants. With guidance they could enter adulthood with a thirst to understand the mindset of people who hurt and kill, yes, and also the history behind endless enmity.
In the case of Simon Jr., the shared experience may account for a keen self-awareness and vigilance.
“I remember being in gym class, when everything stopped and we were told about what happened. There was a brief sense of panic where I thought, ‘Could we be next?’” BJ recalled the very moment. “Years later I remember being told to look less suspicious by shaving and dressing nicely when going to the airport. ‘Don’t give them a reason to search you or think you’re a terrorist,’ I was told. A feeling that I subconsciously feel today.”
Subconsciously too, perhaps, he pursued a psychology degree that informs his work in human resources at a premier state university medical center. And shaped his deep sensitivity and progressive values that won over a kindred spirit now his fiancée.
(Cherie Querol Moreno is Executive Editor of Philippine News Today)