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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 26, 2001

Volcanic Ash
Coping — one day at a time

By David Shapiro

I sit looking out the window as I do every day, taking comfort from our three plumeria trees with their yellow, white and pink blossoms, our flourishing ti plants that appear to grow a foot a day and the neighbor's azaleas draped over the back wall.

Some days, it seems everything is the same. Except for the nagging feeling in the gut that nothing will ever be the same.

The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon strengthened our country's unity and resolve more than any event in a generation.

But the assaults also have taken a toll on our psyches — individually and as a nation — as the realization hits harder each day that our lives have changed forever.

We watch our economy teeter and financial markets stutter as we wait to see the shape of our country's response. We keep open a wary eye for more bloody salvos by the terrorists.

Our determination to see justice done holds us together, but in increasing numbers we experience depression, anxiety, irritability, lethargy and sleeplessness.

Even those of us who suffered no direct impact feel profound sorrow for the losses of others. I find my wife sobbing sometimes, and she asks if I've cried, too. I've mostly felt numb, like the starch was taken out of me. It's been a struggle to get motivated for anything.

Mental health professionals say those with persistent signs of depression should seek help. But generally, they say, these are normal reactions that can be dealt with by keeping active and finding a routine.

I finally started to shake the blues when my grandson Corwin and I took advantage of a kindergarten holiday to make a weekday trip to the zoo.

The events of the past two weeks have changed Corwin's future in ways we can't imagine, but he can't understand yet. He's starting to hear a lot about this thing called America. While not quite certain what it is, he's getting the idea that it's pretty darned important.

The crowd at the zoo was sparse because of the scarcity of visitors in Waikiki. No matter. We were there to look at monkeys, not tourists.

I watched my 42-pound boy feed a carrot to an 11,000-pound elephant named Mari. We stalked the elusive tiger, chased the potbellied pigs in the petting zoo and checked to see if Rusti the orangutan had moved to Hilo yet.

We watched the warthogs tussle, the alligators bask in the sun and the Komodo dragons taste the air with their darting tongues. We drank frozen lemonade with bits of fresh rind.

It was still possible to find a little joy in this world, after all.

The closest we came to terrorism was when a bunch of brazenly aggressive pigeons attacked Corwin for his hot dog bun while I waited in line for the french fries.

We fought back by tossing bread to the peacock, who returned the favor by stepping in like a new sheriff in town to dispatch the pigeons with his sharp beak.

The trip to the zoo revived my spirits, but it took a trip to the doctor with a family member yesterday to restore my sense of humor. As I got off the elevator, I heard a nurse looking for a patient.

"Mr. Charisma?" she called. "Mr. Charisma?"

When I passed, she asked, "Are you Mr. Charisma?"

Humility forced me to admit that I wasn't, but I thanked her for my first good laugh in two weeks.

David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net