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Celebrating Strength In 9/11 Survivors

Ten years after the September 11 terrorist attacks, research shows that survivors have displayed incredible resilience and an inspiring capacity to heal.

| September 9th, 2011
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
9/11

Ten years after the September 11 attacks, Richie Pecorella remembers that Karen Juday was “the one.” She made the “macho Italian guy from Brooklyn” feel fifteen again and helped him be a better person. They were engaged when he watched the trade centers, where she worked on the 101st floor, burn from his office window. He remembers throwing his office chair at the window, his hands trembling uncontrollably. While he still misses her deeply, he is committed to honoring her life. Looking upward, he promises her, “I will do enough good to make it up there.”

Richie’s story appears in a short animation narrated with his thick Brooklyn accent and punctuated by moments of touching humor and grief. The animation is part of an ongoing StoryCorps oral history project to record a story about each life lost in the trade center attacks.

Richie’s narrative, though sad, is noticeably colored by hope. Far from being an exception, his strength is in fact the norm—a powerful testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

The terrorist attacks on September 11 were what psychologists call, in clinical terms, a potentially traumatic event, meaning a life-threatening event that is more likely to evoke traumatic responses like panic attacks or intrusive flashbacks. Anticipating widespread trauma, city officials gathered unprecedented numbers of grief counselors and psychologists to help survivors and city residents cope. The services went almost entirely unutilized—there simply was no need.

The more common story was one of extraordinary resilience. 

MORE: Journal Through a Trauma

“People may have jumped the gun by assuming that there were going to be extensive, long-term psychiatric casualties,” says Philip Saigh, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Columbia University Teachers College and a leading trauma researcher. “History has typically shown that doesn’t happen. People are much more resilient than one would expect.” 

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