Today the sun is shining, the sky is clearly reflecting a shade of blue that makes all the world feel like a fable. It is a stage for weaving tales of goodness and abundance. It is a sky that sings of harvest, even here, in the city where ideas are grown more than fruits. What is true today, was true eleven years ago, on another September 11th, on another Tuesday that haunts some and resonates with many others.
You see, today is the death day: and no one needs too many facts on these anniversaries. What they really need is connection, tolerance and patience. It's the kind of simple logic-thing you learn as a kid if you have a big family and you make it to lots of funerals with your mother, paying your respects. This is the day you say "I'm sorry" and "You must miss them" and "Oh, remember the time?!" It's the day you respect and to respect, you must listen not only with your head, but with your spirit. In every family, we learn our own day will come when the bell will toll for us, and in every nation we must learn that we too, have our sufferings, our losses. We must bear these with dignity.
When I hear people rattle off "Never Forget" in relation to 9/11 I want to ask them, what exactly do you want us to not forget? Probably, you want reverance paid to your suffering, to the suffering of others, most likely "Never Forget" is a plea for compassion; for others to suffer together with you, for your personal loss or for your sense of insecurity to be recognized and addressed is what a person needs. If that's what it means, I won't forget. I believe in sharing your pain if that will help you release it, work past it, get to the next state of healing. In over ten years those who lost loved ones can probably joke a little, smile a little, remember how much joy their loved one brought to their lives. That's how time and death work and so a slogan that reminds us to stop and listen, to share stories of connection, that seems OK in that context.
The place where "Never Forget" doesn't work is when it's meant to stoke the campaign wars or the fires of mistrust amongst citizens and others. It doesn't work when it's meant to elevate that one day's suffering above all others or our local suffering above that occurring daily all over the world, especially that suffering that exists in our own backyards. Never forgetting can't be slapped on the 9/11 memory like some type of branding that decorates the Memorial's gift shop or its glossy black and blue gift bags. It can't be attached only to that one day without detracting from all the other sufferings in this country.
I resist this type of slogan, because I couldn't forget certain things from that day if I tried and neither could many other eye witnesses. What is it you ask? The smell? The smoke? The silence in the sky and the impossible rumble of the buildings as they crumbled? The crying of others? The ambulances and the ferries that had no one living to transport; that we watched while nervously smoking cigarettes from the banks of the Hudson? What I can't forget is not the issue, not unless, it takes me somewhere new. Do I still shake when I get in the subway? No, I don't. Do I feel for someone who does...well, yes, I do. Feel it? That's the difference...
We should wake up eleven years later not only to slogans that could mire us in the memory of a particular and painful day unless we also remind ourselves of deeper, lingering lines that remind us of our long term mission to be open and fearless. We should recommit our American experiment to new and greater heights, for whatever goodness this country was meant to foster, can only be accomplished if each one of us transcends fear, suspicion and greed. Give us your tired, your hungry, your poor? We say we can't handle that anymore, so what about those of us right here, right now. We have lots of hungry, tired and poor people.
Memory is an important and useful part of our lives. Collectively, memory can help us find commonality and to create a cohesive culture.
As much as I can't forget that day someone much younger in another part of this country probably already did. It's the way of life. It's the very cycle for some things to mean more to some and less to others. Time does march on. So, do I wish that child I just imagined, do I wish her that same choking horror at watching trapped people throw their bodies down the side of a skyscraper or do I wish her something else? Do I wish her a false memory set in my own emotional amber, preserved for all to see and observe, or do I wish her a reverence for the pain of others? If I wish her to partake in my loss, it is false. If I wish her the sense to know that people suffer and that she can in her daily life alleviate suffering, that she can grow to participate in her community and work on her talents so that all suffering is alleviated, then that is what I prefer, and this, she does not get from a slogan or in school. This she must learn at the knees of her elders. There the earliest, most personal seeds of compassion are sown.
September 11th, 2001 possessed a sky pulled from a story book. How that story ends depends on the story teller. In my story the seeds of compassion fell under the earth and concrete and now, eleven years on, I see those tender buds sprouting. There are weeds, and there is drought, but I see those buds and I trust them to grow so large and beautiful, that they will decorate the sky where once dark clouds rose. In this vision people still struggle and fall in a place teeming with diverse bodies of people in shapes and styles I'd hardly imagined so that I know they are of the future and I am of the past; but the shape of the leaves of what grows from these seeds helps these future people see more beauty, helps them to breathe more deeply and slowly; and in its shade they can appreciate the passing of days, fears, pain and time and in this vision, they embrace all love and honor each death by living strong and in open dialogue.
That's my 9/11 dream and I'm sticking to it. Thanks for reading.