Meaningful Adjacencies

In just a few days ago our nation will commemorate the anniversary of the events of September 11th, 2001. If you’ve been down to the 9/11 Memorial or even seen pictures on TV, you know that there are two enormous fountains in the footprint of each of the towers, with the names of the 2,982 victims running along the border of each. Aside from the tower in which they worked, it may seem impossible to recognize any kind of planned arrangement for the names of victims. However, one of the most important features of the memorial is the particular placement of the engraved names. After much thought the memorial design team decided to pursue a complicated but significant design principle called “meaningful adjacency”. This meant that each victim was to be honored next to other victims who meant something to them – whether it was a family member, or a longtime colleague, or someone they happened to sit next to. Victims’ families were contacted and asked to name others with whom their loved one shared a relationship.  Miraculously, the planners were able to grant every single one of the more than 1,200 adjacency requests they received.


I learned about this concept of Meaning Adjacencies from a friend who lost a parent in the 9/11 attacks and it really stuck with me. With what is happening in the world today on global and national fronts and in the day to day trauma work that CANY does, this idea of meaningful adjacencies feels like a powerful one. In arranging the names in such a way, the memorial planners made sure that the victims were remembered not alphabetically, by their rank, or how many sales they made but by whom they affected and whom they were affected by on a personal relational level.

Reading my friends post made me think about the work that we do at CANY. CANY’s work is relational, meaning that when trauma happens in relationship it can only be healed in relationship. It is not lost on me that as we as a nation mourn the victims of 9/11, many of the clients we work with on daily basis often live in fear of the world and their environments.

Perhaps our work is about creating relational adjacencies even if it is just for that one moment in group.  In order for a person to be emotionally healthy, he or she must maintain fulfilling and satisfying relationships with those around them. The stress and turmoil of previous traumatic relationships inhibit the ability to be with or even next to someone in a way that feels safe for most of the clients we work with. Relational work especially in the context of CANY’s model of trauma-informed drama therapy is about sociometry and choice. By facilitating a safe and positive relationship in the security of a CANY group as well as in the fictional stories we create, the client can be provided with a stronger sense of self and confidence.  I wonder as therapists, how often we reflect on our own roles as helpers facilitating meaningful adjacencies through the interventions we make in our groups or sessions? Finding ways to empower our clients with the skills necessary to recognize and create productive and healthy relationships is key in our model. We as drama therapists work to co-create a safe enough environment to work with past relationship traumas and hopefully help create connections or adjacencies in the present.

My friend commented that there was a “sudden quiet clarity” in seeing the names carved in bronze. She said “this tragedy that never made sense, finally, one thing was perfectly clear: how we love, how we choose to treat others is how we are to be truly remembered.”

And so, as we begin a new program year I pose the question to my staff, to you and to myself: How might we all create significant relationships in our work and in our life? What does it take to really be next to someone, to hold space for them and to find a those meaningful adjacencies?

This concept is one I will keep close to me as we head into September and remember those who lost their live on September 11th.  It is also one I will remember as I work with all the loss that our clients have experienced.


Heidi Blog Photo

Heidi Landis LCAT- RDT-BCT, TEP, CGP

CANY Associate Executive Director

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