Americans strive to regain sense of hope, security by waving flag

Patriotic garb, displays help lift shaken spirits

Terrorism Strikes America

September 23, 2001|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW YORK - Charles Warholic sat in a tattoo parlor in Greenwich Village, patiently watching a man poke a needle under his skin to etch the Statue of Liberty and the number 911 on his right arm.

"I want to get something to remember those who died and show my support," said Warholic, 37, still reeling from the sudden, tremendous loss of life at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.

Tattoo parlors across Manhattan have seen a jump in customers asking for American flags, crying eagles and the New York skyline as it was before the terrorist attacks. On the street, people have draped themselves head to toe with American flags on T-shirts, belt buckles, neckties and bandannas.

Some neighborhoods in Manhattan are almost wallpapered with banners of support for the victims and for America. Restaurants across the city set small flags on dining tables each night, and women are getting red-white-and-blue manicures.

Such symbols of patriotism have proliferated across the country, say mental health professionals, because people who sympathize with victims of the tragedy want to feel they have some impact on the situation to relieve their sense of hopelessness.

They want to regain a perception of security lost in the attack, said Jonathan Kandell, assistant director of the Counseling Center at the University of Maryland. And they do that by taking some kind of action, no matter how small.

"Not everybody can go to Pakistan or go to New York and work in the rubble. But they can show support by doing something patriotic," said Kandell, a psychologist. "Emotions are going all over the place. People are struggling. Their sense of security shattered. They want to do something right away to relieve their anxiety and establish some control. They are trying to cope in any way they can."

For Lisa Lipkind, coping meant buying a $300 poster of the New York skyline to hang in the main room of her Manhattan home.

"The World Trade Center is a piece of my heart. Look what they did to my beautiful city," said Lipkind. "I felt so strongly I had to have the poster. What else can you do? Be obnoxious to every Arab cabdriver in New York? It's not their fault."

Customers are "going crazy" for anything with the World Trade Center on it, said Patrick Chabala, manager of Artful Posters in Greenwich Village.

And, of course, anything with the flag on it.

"I've never owned a flag before," said New Yorker Sandy Johnson as she bought a $2 flag off of a folding table in midtown Manhattan. "I'm doing this because as an American citizen, I'm hurt and sad for what has happened."

Many people who are buying flags had thought "the Fourth of July meant it was a good day to barbecue," said Debra D'Agostino, 46, who was wearing a red-white-and-blue ribbon in memory of two friends lost in the World Trade Center.

Another reason people feel the need to flash signs of patriotism is to be a part of something greater than themselves, Kandell said.

"When there is such a profound tragedy, people are hurting and don't want to feel isolated and disconnected. They don't want to be left to fend for themselves," he said. "Watching television or drinking doesn't help. People do whatever they can to soothe themselves, to feel a part of what's going on. They see America as a family or tribe."

The day after the attack, Paul Henterly drove seven hours and 15 minutes from Akron, Ohio, to Manhattan to be near the tragedy. He wore his American flag T-shirt for four days straight.

"Anyone who is out on the street showing their support is a hero in their own way because they're not being a coward," said Henterly, 37. "It'll be tough to leave New York. I feel like I want to stay here."

Experts also say the attack has been hard on the American psyche because the enemy is not apparent.

"We've been attacked by an enemy we can't see. There's a lot of anxiety and insecurity because of that," said Norman Epstein, a professor in the department of family studies at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"We feel more secure saying were all in this together, circling the wagons," Epstein said.

Tracy McGowan, 39, sat in New York's Pennsylvania Station wearing an American flag bandanna on her head and a T-shirt that read "God Bless America," with a picture of the twin towers and flag. Her sister and mother, sitting next to her, were clad the same way.

"This is like an in-your-face type of thing," McGowan said. "It's like `You did this to us, but you haven't broken me.' I'm going on, no matter what. It gives hope that the spirit is still there."

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