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As the first plane struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Lisa Luckett knew she would never see her husband Teddy again. As a mother of three young children witnessing and living America’s greatest tragedy, she could have easily fallen into despair. Lisa chose a different path. Seventeen years later she’s sharing her story, insights and advice on how to use tragedy to strengthen emotional resilience and grow.
SBT: Your perspective on 9/11 reminds me of the Virginia Woolf quote “The beauty of the world has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish.” Instead of focusing on the anguish, you are focusing on how pain and tragedy can lead to positive personal growth. Why have you chosen to focus on the light in 9/11 versus the tragedy of it all?
LISA: Being a 9/11 widow provides permission to look at things differently. I’m not as judged as others when I might say something a little different, like maybe there’s light in 9/11. I received an unparalleled amount of unconditional love from friends and strangers around the world. That love was so powerful. It held me stay buoyant and gave me a protective layer so I could continue to move forward in the way that ‘felt’ best.
Now, 17 years later, I’ve done a lot of processing. It’s important to remember that while I might have one of the most extreme stories, 9/11 is a collective trauma. It was experienced simultaneously by everyone, not only in our country, but around the world in real time. Almost everyone in the 50 million person population between Boston and Washington knew someone personally, or knew of someone’s close relation. People in the New York metro could see it, smell it, and taste it. The morning of 9/11 was so shocking and catastrophic that, for me, it literally opened a vortex and I started to receive guidance. I received a sense of knowing to trust myself — to not question what I ‘knew’ or felt. I stopped looking to others for answers. Most importantly, everything became very simple; it was about my three kids and getting them through this in the most emotionally healthy way possible.
Traumas come in all sizes. One is not better or worse than another; they are relative to the person experiencing them. There’s another type of trauma that is insidious, and goes unseen — the daily repetitive traumas we live with all the time. Those small, off-putting remarks that chip away at our self-esteem and our egos. I had a lifetime of small traumatic experiences that prepared me to have this experience of 9/11, and that’s why I believe finding the light in our struggle is why we’re here.
SBT: Can you touch on some of those smaller traumas?
LISA: I was unusually prepared for 9/11. My husband Teddy had walked down 105 floors in the (North tower) bombings in 1993. He worked for the same company, Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 658 people on 9/11. I was enraged at the terrorists the first time but nobody else seemed to care. Everybody swept it under the rug and went back to normal a couple months later. When it happened the second time I never got angry again because subconsciously we knew they went back into two enormous targets. On a personal level, Teddy’s mom constantly talked about him dying of a heart attack. He was working a stressful job. He was a little overweight. He had high cholesterol. He blew her off but I constantly ran his death through my mind because she reminded me of it all the time. The human mind is very powerful. We can get ourselves just as worked up at the idea of an event as the event itself; but we don’t ever imagine the good that comes with it. Teddy’s mom lost her husband when her children were teenagers and the family never processed the grief properly. They became victimized by it.
We’ve only been taught to be victims and enable victimization. Eight years after 9/11, I got an early diagnosis of breast cancer. The minute you hear the word cancer, you feel like it’s a death sentence yet many cancers are 100 percent treatable. It was a huge test of what I had learned. I realized that instead of looking at your life as “Why is this happening to me?” it should be “Why is this happening for me? Why am I being shown this? What am I supposed to learn?” Continuing to suffer and not choosing to see the good in our experiences is taking a victim mentality. Choosing to lean into the struggle is taking an offensive position. Everyone knows the best defense is a good offense because it puts you on better footing.
SBT: How did your experience become a catalyst for wanting to help others handle loss and tragedy?
LISA: The morning of 9/11, I had a profound and truly transcendent experience in the first few hours. As I looked around my house in a state of heightened, detached awareness, I was watching my neighbors and friends wringing their hands, spinning in their pain and terror. They kept asking me what they could do for me, what it was I needed. I was in the moment with them; I couldn’t get my head around the fact that Ted might be dead but I did see the devastating blow our country had just taken. I just wanted to help them and all they wanted to do was help me. In a surreal moment, a voice of ‘knowing’ in my head said “Lisa, let them help you.” So I let go of my coveted control and surrendered. In that moment I was overwhelmed by waves of gratitude, humility and the most remarkable feeling of love that has been with me ever since. From surrendering and showing my vulnerability I realized that letting people help you is a natural and necessary cycle of grieving and healing. As much as we want to help others in a crisis, we also have to allow ourselves to be helped when it is us. If you block someone you are keeping them from feeding their soul.
SBT: Can you talk about Americans not being emotionally prepared for 9/11?
LISA: We don’t have any emotional training because admitting to emotional issues in our culture has always been shamed. We have to trust what we feel inside and follow our intuition to guide us. We have never put our resources toward the emotional education of our children (and adults) in the same way we have for academics, business, sports and physical fitness. We need to start educating ourselves in emotional intelligence because the world is very different and our children are living in a different time. Technology can never replace a hug or being told by another human being that everything is going to be okay. We need to see the value of life experience because every single thing we’ve lived is teaching us what we need for the next thing. Your life is preparing you for your life all the time. It’s your path.
SBT: So what’s the most important thing we need to do to build our emotional resilience and our courage to reach out to others?
LISA: We need to calm down. Put down our phones and turn off the television. Stop listening to the noise and remember what we know. Every day since 9/11, the sun still comes up in the east and it sets in the west. Nothing outside has really changed. The only thing that has changed, is us. Seventeen years after 9/11, the fear that was rooted at a cellular level that day has become an addiction and the media is feeding it.
SBT: What can we do to move through grieving and healing in a better and more productive way?
LISA: My biggest worry was that I was going to forget Ted. But looking back now, I know he has been with me the entire time. I’ve never forgotten him, not for one split second. The kids and I have brought him with us as we moved into a positive, new future. I learned grief is a process. There’s no going around it. You have to go through it. I was fortunate that I had young kids because they could distract me. Allow your grief to process naturally. Take the numbness when it comes, because the pain will come, but it ebbs and flows.
SBT: What has the response been to your book “The Light in 9/11: Shocked by Kindness, Healed by Love”?
LISA: I would never have dreamed it could be this good. People tell me they read it in one sitting. I was writing for me and women my age. Yet my children’s friends are reading it. Men are reading it. My readers are 18 to 86 and they all say the same thing: “It’s so inspiring. You’re so courageous to be so honest.” This is the first book of three; a memoir because I want to meet people and build a relationship with them. I want them to TRUST me because the next two books are going to take people further out on the spectrum of seeing our world in a new way.
SBT: Can you share a bit more? What’s next for you?
LISA: I’m hoping to build a speaking platform. I’m really beginning to understand that this is a spiritual experience. Once I peeled back all the layers and analysis to break through the ceiling to mental health, the next step was to understand that we are a soul having a physical experience. We are always connected to our higher selves, to each other in an comprehensive energetic system. Twenty years from now when I’ve aged out and my kids are in their early 40s, this will be common knowledge. We are in the beginning of this new thinking. It is the new world that is coming. I’m only one voice in hundreds of thousands of voices that are saying the exact same thing from having their own awakenings, whether from a traumatic experience or because one day they just ‘woke up’.
SBT: Is there anything that people should know that we haven’t yet covered?
LISA: I hope that people will lean in and choose courage. All it takes is 10 seconds of courage. When you are out of your comfort zone, you are learning. Let go of trying to orchestrate it and let it come to you. While the world seems like it is going crazy, it’s just breaking down the old systems to be restructured. Out of chaos comes order. The future is going to be different. Maybe the next generations won’t have to struggle quite as hard. Or their struggles will be different. Maybe we are raising the kids of today in a softer, more loving and accepting environment so that they can become who it is they are meant to be, not who we want them to be.
SBT: How can someone find out more about you, your book and your enlightened living business, Cozmeena?
LISA: Lisaluckett.com and cozmeena.com, which is the made up word meaning cozy kindness.
Lisa Luckett is the author of “The Light in 9/11: Shocked by Kindness, Healed by Love,” a TEDx speaker, entrepreneur and single mother of three children. She’s also the founder of Cozmeena, an enlightened living brand and social movement based on the foundational elements of warmth, comfort, care, consideration, grace and decency.
Gayle Nowak is a contributor to Small Business Trendsetters and Business Innovators Magazine covering influencers, innovators and trendsetters in business, health, finance and personal development. She also has contributed to Founderswire.com, an American digital news magazine and video channel that provides in-depth analysis and reporting on modern entrepreneurship and technology that solves global problems. She was previously a staff writer and contributor for several local newspapers in the Boston media market including the Ludlow Register, Ashland and Holliston TABs, MetroWest News and Taunton Daily Gazette.