This is the year that I finally grieved for the events of 9-11-01. Standing in the kitchen after being in hospital for two days over low blood pressure and heart palpations, I finally watched the events re-capped on TV instead of changing the channel as I have done for ten years. A week after the anniversary, and my heart still aching in my chest, I stood at my breakfast bar and sobbed while the planes hit structures and ground, and while buildings crumbled.
The vile political atmosphere most certainly contributed to the stress of my recent medical adventure. Just prior to the anniversary of the events of 9-11 there were a number of bloggers who said we should tone it down and minimize those events, because people needed to just forget and heal, and that these memorial ceremonies were a form of political grandstanding. But forgetting and healing are not synonymous, and formal, public recognition of the losses we suffer as a community transcends politics.
When the planes hit the towers, I was visiting my then fiancé in Connecticut. I did not particularly like the frenetic energy of the state. Compared to Maine, it is isolating and stressful. But love is not always convenient, so here I was, preparing to head back north. My husband – who grew up here – refers to Connecticut as the freeway of New England and the bedroom of New York. But for this, Connecticut stopped. Greenwich, Stamford and Norwalk, have, or are working on, permanent memorial sites and I’m sure the same is true in northern New Jersey.
Loss ties us together, and acknowledging loss reminds us of our weaknesses, our human frailty, and participating in public memorials is an act of community, of empathy, of kindness. It is a gift to those who have lost, or a statement of shared grief. It is an act not just of respect for those who died, but an act of connection to our shared history, to our ancestors.
And as I stood in my kitchen, sobbing for the loss of thousands, there was joy. Joy because there were those that, even as they died, exemplified what is best about humans. Some of us are willing to let go of what is most precious to us – our very lives – to protect others of our species. They may be paid professionals, or they may be the guy sitting next to you.
What I find most beautiful about this country is the willingness to put aside differences when it most counts. Not as a conscious decision, but as a spontaneous gift. I was living in Bay Area in 1989 when the earth quake hit. Then, as on 9-11, average people risked their lives to help those in need. They did not stop to consider race, religion, or ethnicity. They helped. Nor did those involved in the events of 9-11 stop to think about such things. Ordinary people simply acted with nobility and honor. Divisions, differences in ideology, were less important than our commonalities.
But while we remember natural disasters, we do not create memorial rituals around them. We do not need to. We memorialize wars, genocide, and terrorism, and we do not do it to celebrate those events, but because we need to counter these acts of human aggression with an act of community. Nature’s violence is awesome and terrifying, but it is not personal, and it is the personal that hurts us so deeply that we need to gather to remember, and heal within the context of ritual and kinship. For someone to suggest that we should tone down or forget 9-11 is an act of division and calluosness. To remember 9-11, or Pearl Harbor, or D-Day, or the Holocaust is to take the time to acknowledge both what is worst and best in humanity.