The Ripple Effect: When Old Emotions Resurface

It’s easy to dwell on the horrors of that dark day in history 10 years ago. Focus more on the individual acts of kindness through which we helped each other cope.


The building rumbled and the overhead lights flickered. Faces popped over cubicle walls, desperate to make eye contact and get validation that other people were actually feeling this, too. We jumped out of our desks and focused on calmly descending 10 flights of stairs, our cell phones failing as we tried to reach out to friends and family. We finally reached the street and found Farragut Square Park filled with thousands of others who fled their buildings with similar stories of panic and confusion.

We scanned the skies for telltale signs of smoke or airplanes. We cast a wary eye toward the Washington Monument, the Capitol, and the White House.  And incredulously, we sighed in relief upon learning it was the largest East Coast earthquake in more than 60 years – not a terrorist attack. This was the scene from an afternoon just a month ago, on August 23, 2011, the day our region trembled under an earthquake that registered a 5.8 on the Richter scale.  And for many of us here in the Washington D.C. area, it was a brief and chilling flashback to September 11, 2001.   

But evidently, the emotional waves that began ten years ago still have the power to ripple across time and pull us back to that moment. But it’s what we do when we revisit those memories that makes us stronger, tempering us into a society that pushes beyond tragedy into something more powerful, inspiring, and ultimately better.

You have probably already read countless recollections of 9/11 on this 10-year anniversary of the tragedy. And that’s great because one of the ways our nation heals is via the sharing process. Our lives were touched, dramatically in some instances and minutely in other instances. Our lives were changed. But more importantly, we changed. In reaction to an indelible shift to a nation’s reality, we took actions and we changed.

What did you do in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks?  Did you reach out to a distant relative to let them know you were okay?  Donate blood at the Red Cross? Stop by your local fire house with cookies and a tearful thank you? Return to church? Hug your kids a little tighter?

Whatever it was, I’m willing to bet it made a difference.  

Actions like that scatter the dark clouds of depression and grief. In the midst of fear, anxiety, anger, and confusion, we responded with a million acts of love and compassion. To a person, on a one-on-one basis, that’s really the most that we can do for each other. 

We can continue to make a difference one action at a time. One person at a time. Credit unions intrinsically have such strong ties to our individual communities that in many ways, you probably just need to keep doing what you’re already doing. Smile at your new member. Coordinate with your fellow employees on a volunteer effort at a local shelter or food bank. If you’re a credit union with a field of membership that includes armed forces or public safety personnel, offer them a special “thank you” for their service. One million acts of love and compassion will always outshine even the most horrendous acts of cruelty. Reflect on the tragedy and let those old ripples of emotion flow through you, but continue to live and act in celebration of life.


Sept. 9, 2011



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