It occurred to me while listening to the car radio this morning as the names of the 9/11 dead were read that perhaps after next year, the 10th anniversary of the attacks, it's time to leave the ritualized mourning to the families.
I'm not saying we should forget what happened nine years ago today. You don't forget something like that any more than those who were at Pearl Harbor and survived ever forgot that. But the names of the Pearl Harbor dead aren't read annually in perpetuity either.
There's something that I variously call "The Book of Old Grudges" or "The Garden of Old Grudges", depending on what metaphor I use on any given day. It's the syndrome, and I know you either have varying degrees of it or know people who do, characterized by an unwillingness to let go of bad things that happened in the past and a seeming sense of gratification one gets from reliving those bad things over and over and over again. You see it in people still bitter over divorces that happened decades ago, even if they are happily remarried. You see it in women who persist, twenty, thirty, forty years later in describing themselves as "survivors of rape". You see it in people who are unable to find a way to live with the scars of childhood trauma. They are unable to in any way get past something awful that happened to them and instead nurture the trauma, sculpting it into something lasting, something that pervades everything about their lives. They get "stuck" -- unable to live, unable to move along, unable to find a place for the terrible things that happen in life.
A friend of mine lost her 24-year-old daughter very unexpectedly a few years ago. One day her daughter was here, and the next she was gone. One of our colleagues said something at the time that I thought was very wise. She said "You never really get over it, but you find a place for it -- like a room in your mind that you visit every now and then." When we both started work at the same place after being laid off, my friend wondered how to answer the question about how many children she has. After all, she didn't want to pretend that her daughter had never existed, but didn't want to have to be "The Woman Whose Daughter Died." My friend is not "The Woman Whose Daughter Died." She's a colleague, a professional, a mother to her remaining daughter, a friend, someone with interests and plans for the future -- someone with a life.
I keep thinking of that scene from the otherwise hokey movie Tuck Everlasting
, in which William Hurt explains to Alexis Bledel why being immortal and staying the same forever isn't all it's cracked up to be:
Look around you.
It's teeming life.
It's flowers and trees and frogs.
It's... it's all part of the wheel.
It's always changing; it's always growing...like you, Winnie.
Your life is never the same.
You were once a child. Now, you are about to become a woman.
One day, you'll grow up and you'll do something important.
You'll have children, maybe, and then one day you'll go out...
just like the flame of a candle.
You'll make way for new life.
That's a certainty.
That's the natural way of things.
And then, there's us.
What we Tucks have, you can't call it living.
We just... are.
We're like rocks, stuck at the side of a stream.
There's one thing I've learned about people.
Many will do anything, anything not to die
and they'll do anything to keep from living their life.
Do you want to stay stuck as you are right now, forever?
I've just got to make you understand.
(Winnie) I don't want to die. Is that wrong?
No. No human does...but i-it's part of the wheel...
the same as being born.
You can't have living without dying.
Don't be afraid of death, Winnie.
Be afraid of the unlived life.
I don't pretend to be able to tell anyone who lost a friend, a spouse, a brother or sister, a father, mother, uncle, or neighbor how to grieve, or how long to grieve, or how they should remember this day. I do think that some reflection is warranted, not just about the horror of that one day, but about all the horrors that day has wrought since then, some of it wrought by the very people we looked to on that day to provide reassurance. Since that day we have endured needless, endless war, limits to our freedoms that produce no added safety, divisiveness that rivals that of the Jim Crow era. The circus that has filled the 24/7 news cycle for the last few weeks about the Park51 project and about a lunatic in Florida and those who would copy him, do nothing to commemorate or pay respects to the dead.
The endless flogging of 9/11 for political purposes has forever sullied any kind of public observance of this day. Next year on this day we will have read the names of the dead in each year of the decade since the attacks. We should never forget what happened. But after a decade, it will be time for those of us lucky to have been personally untouched by the tragedy to put it away and get on with the business of living, instead of being stuck, like rocks at the side of a stream.
Labels: 9/11, personal musings