11 September 2010

 

Letting Go of 9/11

Knock knock.
Who's there?
9/11.
9/11 who?
9/11 you said you'd never forget!
We're going today to a memorial service for my recently-departed friend Jim Swift. Jim called me on Memorial Day weekend to tell me they'd found two tumors in his liver, but that the doctor thought they would be able to excise them cleanly, and then his liver would grow back. A few weeks later, at the time of meeting with the doctor who'd do the surgery (if I'm recalling this correctly), Jim found out that there was a tumor at the back of his skull, too, so got a different doctor, and started a different set of treatments for that, first, since it had been pressing on nerves and causing headaches, speech issues, etc.

I thought the treatments were progressing, because he was able to play his guitar again, the thing beyond the people he loved that he cared about most, and he was planning on having a big party with all his friends. I was out of town in mid July when I got the word that he had passed away, and I still don't know details. I just know he's gone.

I'm glad to go to this memorial service today.

I have no intention of going to another one nine years from now.

I thought the world of Jim, and I know I'll remember him fondly now and then, but I wouldn't advise, even for his family and closer friends, keeping his memory alive beyond a quiet awareness of his having been with us, of what that meant to us.

So many of those lost on 11 September 2001 had no connection to the reasons we were attacked. Some—the firefighters and police in New York, military rescue personnel at the Pentagon, and those who bravely brought down United flight 93—died in valor, saving others' lives by rescue and by fighting back. Remembering them all is not without value.

But jacking that remembrance up, putting it on a pedestal, shining lights on it, standing back and looking at it, and bringing back the feelings of those times is not wise. It is not a sensible remembrance. It is pandering to our basest hair-pulling, garment-rending, flesh-tearing sensibilities.

Once, perhaps, yes; but not on an annual basis in perpetuity.

We don't need to treat 9/11 like the families who put "In loving memory..." stickers on their car, keeping the pain and the loss in attention rather than honoring the departed by using this short time on Earth productively. But we've lost a broad cultural sense of how to mourn, how to give families space to mourn for a year, how to welcome them back from that mourning in a gradual way. We're struggling in an age lacking consistent rituals in a multicultural society to honor birth and death and lifelong commitments.

It is time to move our thoughts about 9/11 to a better place every September. We will note the date, but there will come a day when we don't, and shouldn't, fly the flag at half staff. When we don't let demagogues speechify and dominate the airwaves with loony ideas. When we don't act the wounded victim time and time again.

It would be easier to let go had Bin Laden et al. been captured. That bungling can't be undone: only new operations challenging and attacking Al Queda can accomplish now what was not finished then.

How many times did your mother tell you, "Don't pick it until it bleeds"? We seem to have become a nation, like the drivers of the cars with the "In memory of..." stickers, picking constantly at the memory. Until it bleeds.

Do we really honor the departed by making a fetish of our loss?

Let's make next year, the tenth anniversary, the last year for five years that we make such a to-do about that horrible day in 2001. Let's honor the dead of that day, and of all days, by living our lives fully, not by a recurring focus on our loss.

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Comments:
A few thoughts, more hypothesized explanatory ruminations than a rebuttal :-) :

* 9/11 is about 3000 connected losses; 3000 >> 1.

* We still commemorate Pearl Harbor (~comparable casualty count / surprise factor) annually 60 add'l. years later. Some of this commemoration fades in intensity with the passing of the population who remembers it (= way slower than starting to quiet as soon as T+11 years).

* We don't yet have closure with 9/11's perpetrators (bin Laden on the loose; we're still trying to estimate what size minority of the Muslim 20% of the world actually cheered 9/11; Taliban still out there; 3/11; 7/7; underwear guy; Ft. Hood, etc.). So as a people, we have some pending angst. Perhaps these 9/11 remembrances are some of the more peaceful ways to channel some of that energy?

-- John P.
 
John,

3000 > 1 is a fact of numbers, not of sociology. We get to choose much of the degree to which we honor the connected loss, the effect it continues to have on us, and for how long. It doesn't have to be thoughtless. It doesn't have to go back time and time again to the reptile brain in all of us.

I've been in Honolulu on Pearl Harbor day. To the best of my knowledge, a good part of contemporary remembrance is our survivors getting together with their survivors. Try imagining that for future 9/11 remembrances.

I made the first part of your third point in what I wrote.

I'm skeptical that counting the fraction of Muslims that cheered means much. We could also start counting the number of Roman Catholics and other Christians who cheered, even quietly, at the Holocaust during WWII, even still deny it.

I grew up in a town where the preacher on the radio at noontime reminded all that "the Jayewes cayilled Jayesus," and we both know how the Jews served as a convenient scapegoat in European history.

(Remember, too, of course, what Camus said: "We have to forgive the Pope." And he was speaking, almost certainly, of Pius XII and his role in the Holocaust, in particular.)

Are you sure there's value in that path? There are lots of way to start putting people, now or historically, into the enemy of freedom and of life bins.

We are always going to have pending angst regarding terrorism by one or more groups of disparate motivations. Not to have such will mean we have given up our freedoms. I don't like what seems to be implicit condoning of violence in your last sentence, as if that energy you refer to is justified.
 
Also, I'm just sick and tired of your using my blog to push your agendas. I think the world of you, but I'm tired of your nipping at my heels. Get your own blog, John. I'm turning off comments.
 


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