How Shall We Remember?
In 2005, I wrote a piece on my LiveJournal (which is long since in perpetual hiatus) about a 9/11 memorial I went to on the fourth anniversary of the events of that day. Later on, I re-posted it here where it became, at that time, the most viewed post I had ever put up. It’s still the 46th most visited out of over 1800 posts, so it still must have some resonance. I linked to it, as you can see, but decided not to re-post it in full here. I’m also leaving out any images for this post, since it gets exploitative after a point. This week, as we reach the 13th anniversary of the destruction of the Twin Towers, I am pondering how we should remember this–or if we should.
At that time I taught at a school with a quarterly system, and I was between quarters and thus not working that day. I had been about halfway napping when my wife called and frantically told me to turn on the TV. I did, and saw the coverage of what was happening in New York. It was so appalling, so hard to believe, that I was numb. I felt almost like going back to sleep (a way I sometimes deal with stress), but couldn’t do so. I hung around the house for awhile, watching coverage on and off, until my wife called me and told me her work had let out early. I went to pick her up and brought her home (I must have driven her up that morning; I don’t remember exactly why I had to pick her up). I certainly wanted to get her out of the city as quickly as possible. We live in a small town of about 10,000 some thirty miles from a city of a quarter million. It’s no NYC, but at that time everyone was afraid that any skyscraper, any urban area, was fair game. It made sense at the time.
Later that week the faculty of the college at which I then worked went over to a nearby Methodist church for an ecumenical prayer service for the victims of the terrorist strike. It was simple and somber–much different from the later memorial I wrote about at the linked article. For several years afterwards, I said the akathist to the Archangel Michael on every anniversary of 9/11. Michael being the Captain of the Heavenly Host, and a warrior saint, such prayers for protection seemed at the time the right thing to do. About three or four years ago, I forgot to say the akathist. I realized it didn’t actually bother me. I said some prayers for the dead, and let it go at that. Ever since, that’s what I’ve tried to do–pray for the dead, pray for healing, and pray for peace.
One of the things that motivated me to post my original LiveJournal piece here was this article at The American Conservative (which I linked to in my 9/11 essay as posted at this blog). The whole article is well worth reading, but here is what I think is the key part of it:
There is little on this planet of the living more important, or more human, than the burial and remembrance of the dead. Even Neanderthals buried their dead, possibly with flowers, and tens of thousands of years ago, the earliest humans, the Cro-Magnon, were already burying their dead elaborately, in one case in clothing onto which more than 3,000 ivory beads had been sewn, perhaps as objects of reverence and even remembrance. Much of what we know of human prehistory and the earliest eras of our history comes from graves and tombs where the dead were provided for.
And surely it’s our duty in this world of loss to remember the dead, those close to us and those more removed who mattered in our national or even planetary lives. Many of those who loved and were close to the victims of 9/11 are undoubtedly attached to the yearly ceremonies that surround their deceased wives, husbands, lovers, children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. For the nightmare of 9/11, they deserve a memorial. But we don’t.
If September 11th was indeed a nightmare, 9/11 as a memorial and Ground Zero as a “consecrated” place have turned out to be a blank check for the American war state, funding an endless trip to hell. They have helped lead us into fields of carnage that put the dead of 9/11 to shame.
Every dead person will, of course, be forgotten sooner or later, no matter how tightly we clasp their memories or what memorials we build. In my mind, I have a private memorial to my own dead parents. Whenever I leaf through my mother’s childhood photo album and recognize just about no one but her among all the faces, however, I’m also aware that there is no one left on this planet to ask about any of them. And when I die, my little memorial to them will go with me.
This will be the fate, sooner or later, of everyone who, on September 11, 2001, was murdered in those buildings in New York, in that field in Pennsylvania, and in the Pentagon, as well as those who sacrificed their lives in rescue attempts, or may now be dying as a result. Under such circumstances, who would not want to remember them all in a special way?
It’s a terrible thing to ask those still missing the dead of 9/11 to forgo the public spectacle that accompanies their memory, but worse is what we have: repeated solemn ceremonies to the ongoing health of the American war state and the wildest dreams of Osama bin Laden.
Memory is usually so important, but in this case we would have been better off with oblivion. It’s time to truly inter not the dead, but the worst urges in American life since 9/11 and the ceremonies which, for a decade, have gone with them. Better to bury all of that at sea with bin Laden and then mourn the dead, each in our own way, in silence and, above all, in peace.
All I can say is that I completely agree with these sentiments.
Bertrand Russell somewhere said that no one who had not lived before World War I could know what it was like to be truly happy. This, of course, is in the context of the collapse of the self-assured air of the early 20th Century European culture. I sometimes think the same thing in regard to us. Given the endless war, the increasingly draconian security state, and other perils separate from but exacerbated by the post 9/11 milieu, such as energy shortages and looming ecological disasters, I sometimes think that those born after 9/11 (such as my daughter) or those too young to understand at the time will spend their lives in a world completely different from the one I grew up in. A world that will, perhaps, envy the world of my youth.
We certainly never can forget 9/11, nor should we. I think, though, that the most appropriate thing is to pray for the dead and to pray for peace, and leave it at that. I for one don’t want to think more than that about the event that bequeathed us a world seemingly nastier, madder, and more violent with every year. Pray for the dead and for peace, try to live our lives and love those in our lives as best we can; I think if we can do that, we’ve done enough.