Tuesday, September 11, 2007

September 11th and collective memory

The events of September 11, 2001 are inescapable, even if you want to avoid them. The media won't let us. Coworkers won't let us.

And, most relentlessly, our current politics and the history we are creating (whether or not you consider yourself a collaborator in its creation) won't let us. The events of 9/11 are relentlessly referenced by our politicians in their rhetoric and by the new context we are building for our lives.

So what does this mean to us as we move forward, as these events become our history and mythology? What does this mean as we are creating the story of 9/11 and moving past the immediacy of the event, moving it into memory? How does that traumatic event shape us and our actions, as it fades into something that happened years ago? And what do we owe our sense of history?

I've been thinking about this quite a bit, as we approached and then passed the anniversary. This year, here in Boston, 9/11 was commemorated with speeches from people who benefited from the September 11 funds, monies donated for the families of those who died. I like this, it was a good way of looking forward, of building something on the ruins of the towers, the pentagon walls, and the Pennsylvania field. It was a way of saying we are moving on, we will not be bound by fear.

It was a way of saying the terrorists haven't won.

As I write this, I'm wondering if it could also be a way of suggesting to our government that we are ready to move on, that the rhetoric of revenge and terrorist fear is just getting old. When Bush makes a speech arguing for continued war he invariably invokes September 11th. What if we, as a nation, are ready to move beyond 9/11, ready to let it be part of our story and be something bigger than the 3000 lives lost, be more than a way to invoke boogeymen, does that invalidate his war and continual crisis?

While I know this is a simplistic way of looking at things (the current war has created a far more complicated set of problems than we had before) I wonder if the storying of 9/11, its movement into memory instead of raw, current pain, means maybe it isn't a good excuse anymore.

When I think of September 11, 2001, what I remember is how achingly blue the sky was that morning. I know others on the East coast remember that. I remember standing with all my co-workers wondering what would come next. I remember being afraid, but not just of unknown terrors, but of the war I knew would come. I remember aching for my family and wanting simple comforts. And I remember knowing this, too, would become part of the past and that the decisions we made over the next few months would have long lasting repurcussions.

I wonder if people in Baghdad look at clear skies and flinch sometimes.

I have limited patience with people who blame all of their bad behavior of childhood trauma. Maybe it's time for us to stop whining about what happened and move onto how we can grow past it and build a better future. One where we aren't fighting a war that seems like it will never end. Or at least one where we are more honest about our reasons for being there.

I hate it that the actions of my government have squandered all of that good will and sympathy. I hate it that I am ashamed of actions done in my name. It's time to grow up, grow on. September 11th isn't an excuse anymore.

Maybe what we could do instead is make September 11th a day to build bridges between different cultures, find ways to eradicate hate and build new memories that will lead to peaceful action. Create new stories so children will look at brilliant September skies and think of peace, not wonder what horrors will come from them.

Or am I just too much a dreamer.

And I thought it would be difficult coming up with topics for a blog... I just need to try to confine myself to something I can write in less than a doctoral dissertation.

(c) 2007 Laura Packer
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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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