Loss of Innocence
Natalia J. Garland
Part of the growing up process is to successfully pass through an
episode of life commonly known as the loss of innocence. It
usually occurs in childhood, but can also occur in adolescence or
young adulthood. It can happen more than once. It happens to
individuals, and collectively to groups of people. The loss of
innocence involves an experience or occurrence, perhaps at crisis
level but not at a clinical trauma level, in which the complexity
of human existence is revealed and the weight of the world falls
upon our shoulders. The consequence is that we are jolted into a
higher level of maturity and problem-solving.
Personally, I was
jolted into greater spheres of understanding at ages 10, 19, and
36. For the purpose of illustration, I will share with you a
loss of innocence episode which I incurred as I turned ten years
old. When I was in the fifth grade, my grandfather died. He died
on my birthday. My parents tried to conceal the exact date of
death from me, but I later found out. I knew, anyway, that my
grandfather was gravely ill and that my birthday was quickly
approaching. Despite the somber anticipation of his death and the
grief at the news of his final breath, my parents ensured that I
had a happy birthday.
In the days that
followed, I observed the adults around me and how they coped.
I felt the absence of my grandfather. How could somebody
be here one day and gone the next? What would become of my
grandmother? I became conscious of that other-worldliness beyond
death, the drastically altered reality for family remaining on
earth; and yet the mysterious interwoven threads of the living and
the departed, symbolized by my grandfather dying on my birthday
and by my parents who were still able to celebrate life on that
day. I began to ponder the meaning of life. I began my official
journey toward adulthood--a journey which proceeded not just
according to developmental stages, but by my own unique
It has been said
that we Americans, collectively as a nation, lost our innocence on
September 11, 2001. The terrorist attack on the World Trade
Center was a shock to our democratic government, national security,
economic survival, and humanitarian values (and was probably also
clinically traumatic for many individuals present at the site).
Instinctively, we comforted one another. Defiantly, we opposed an
enemy who wanted to take our freedoms from us. There was
courageous leadership, and citizens united in renewed patriotism.
Some Americans, myself included, thought terrorism had backfired.
We had been jolted into a renaissance of love of country and
Then the war on
terror took some unexpected turns, and there were other crises
at home and around the world which also required our attention.
(1) There was not an easy victory in Iraq. (2) There were the
gruesome beheadings conducted by terrorists. (3) There was the
Madrid train bombing by terrorists. (4) There was the London
metro bombing by terrorists. (5) There was the insurgent bombing
of the Golden Dome Mosque. (6) There was the Abu Ghraib prison
abuse scandal. (7) There was the school massacre in Russia,
conducted by terrorists. (8) There was the Jordan hotel bombing
by terrorists. (9) There have been suicide bombings on a regular
basis in Iraq and other parts of the world. (10) Israel and
Hezbollah went to war. (11) North Korea tested long-range
missles and a nuclear device. (12) Iran kidnapped the British
soldiers. (13) There were questions about the efficiency of the
C.I.A. (14) There were questions about the handling of Hurricane
Katrina. (15) There was the Amish school massacre. (16) There
was the Virginia Tech massacre. (17) There were plans to
attack America which were intercepted, such as the recent capture
of the Fort Dix Six. (18) As I write today's essay, terrorists
are wreaking havoc in Thailand.
We have been
mentally bombarded by the above events in the mainstream news
media, while hearing less about the successes in Iraq. Gleaning
the truth means turning daily to cable news and the internet, and
flexing the muscles of the mind to analyze and evaluate
information and opinions.
These stressors are
extreme. Some Americans, among them senators and congressmen,
have not been able to absorb the psychological impact of
terrorism. In short, they have been terrorized. Rather than
admit to incapacitation and listen to expert advice, or turn
their jobs over to better qualified individuals, they have bolted
into a loss of rationality in which they maintain delusory
competence and importance.
The loss of
rationality involves a breakdown in creative problem-solving,
with a focus on quick answers as a way to deny complexity and to
inflate one's vanity. There is an unwillingness to analyze the
depth and breadth of problems, to search the facts, to weigh and
debate various options, to set aside ambition and choose the best
course of action.
The bolt into
irrationality is a desertion of adulthood, an abandonment of
responsibility, and a betrayal of the loss of innocence.
Confronted with massive and long-term stressors, there is an
exacerbation of already existing personality tendencies and
defense mechanisms in people who might otherwise have managed
smaller or fewer problems. For some, the loss of rationality
means plunging deeper into their pre-existing narcissism for a
false sense of wellbeing. From this sinkhole they criticize
others who offer ideas and plans, blame others when plans fail,
but themselves offer nothing substantial in order to avoid
Is the loss of
rationality, like the loss of innocence, irreversible? I used to
think that the next terrorist attack on America would awaken
our best instincts again and we would rally around the flag again.
Reality would pierce through the dysfunctional muck, and we would
bravely face the tough task of fighting terrorism and restoring
our nation. I now suspect, however, that another attack would
only intensify denial. America would be blamed for every
manifestation of evil in the world.
America lacks true
leadership right now. Very few political or inspirational
leaders who appeared on the scene in 2001 have withstood the
relentless stress of terrorism, and the contagion of irrationality,
to the point of greatness. There are, fortunately, certain
journalists, commentators, and writers from different fields of
study who have steadfastly voiced America's problems and have
presented intelligent solutions. In other words, there are still
functioning adults among us.
adults--we who go to work, take care of others, seek information
and facts, offer ideas, carry the weight of the world on our
shoulders while celebrating life--must not become a silenced
group. Some of our irrational leaders are no longer representing
us. We must become as aggressive as the irrational groups when
voicing our political preferences. We must support our leaders in
government who are protecting democracy, hold the others
accountable for their recklessness, and never bolt.
Until we meet