The conversation was animated. We talked over dinner, laughing and joking, while sharing insights and solving the world’s problems. Again we laugh as we all agreed: if only others would take our suggestions, how much better the world would be! And we laughed some more.
The conversation became more deliberate as the topic changed. I’m not sure how we got to the new topic, but our conversations often meander like creeks running through the hollows of the Appalachian Mountains. So it was that we each began to tell the stories of that day: September 11, 2001. One person shared how his office all gathered around a TV in the waiting area to watch the horrific scenes of the World Trade Center burn and collapse. Another shared how the boss insisted that business continue as usual so that information in the office was whispered from one to another. One of our number was living in Hong Kong at the time. Having finished the evening meal, he turned on a TV as images of the second plane flying into the Towers were shown. In 2001, I was living in Tucson, Arizona. It was two hours earlier than in New York. I had sipped coffee while reading the morning news online around 6:30 AM. Then I showered and dressed for the day. By the time I finished my morning routine, the world had changed. I wondered what to do. I remember the feeling of being both numb and speechless.
We all remember what we were doing when we learned of the events of September 11, 2001. While few of us know people who lost their lives in this tragedy, most of us lost something on that morning. Now, ten years later, we remember.
Over the last ten years, the refrain has often been made: we will remember. Often, when I hear this refrain or see it on posters, placards, or internet ads, I am confronted with images that reflect some kind of a hyper patriotism. Sometimes, it seems to me, that the claim that we will remember is a veiled threat: yes, we’ll remember and we will get even. Yes, we will remember and get back at you because no one dares do this to us.
Other times, the refrain, we will remember, seems to be used to heighten the anxiety of people, to cause them to be afraid or suspicious of unrecognizable terrorists who live in our midst. I know that such fears are very real as I have experienced them, as when a student called one day to say she couldn’t come to class because the terrorist threat level had been raised. She felt that it wasn’t safe to leave home. Other times, when flying, I’ve witnessed how men with dark hair, dark eyes, and beards have been treated suspiciously by other passengers.
Ten years after September 11, 2001, we remember. Remembering is not the problem. The problem, I suggest, is what we remember. Much of what we remember reflects the pain, fear, and horror of the day. Such remembrances reinforce the trauma and become the source of individual and social anxiety. When we remember only pain, when we hold onto pain, resolution and healing elude us. We respond out of hurt and anger, hurting others and ourselves. Balanced, thoughtful action becomes impossible as we become ruled by emotion.
On this tenth anniversary of the tragic events of September 11, 2001, I choose to remember and hold onto things that I consider most significant about that day. Yes, human beings always have the potential to harm each other. But even in the midst of tragedy, the human spirit is resilient and awe-inspiring. Indeed, it is with awe that I remember:
• That life is very fragile. That in a brief ten or fifteen minutes span, the world can go from stabile and predictable to chaotic and dangerous – all for reasons we cannot grasp;
• That in the midst of tragedy, heroes like Fr. Mychal Judge are faithful to their values and sense of integrity and continue to care for others even at the cost of their own lives;
• That when confronted by an overwhelming situation, people use the resources they have to do what they can to make a difference – as did the passengers on Flight 93;
• That when faced with the unthinkable, the human spirit gives generously, loves tenderly, and supports fragile lives of strangers – as witnessed by the response of people around the world, including the Massai warriors of Kenya who sent cattle to the survivors of 9-11 to help provide for them;
• That the God of my faith holds all of us – yes, the people of all nations and all faiths – in tender care even when we repeatedly act with injustice and hatred toward one another.
Yes, on this September 11, I do remember. While others may remember the pain and seek revenge, I choose to remember that people of all faiths, all nations, and all races have the capacity to respond to tragedy in awe-inspiring ways.
© 2011, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.