Today at the college where I work I hosted a 9/11 memorial for our students and staff and we had a speaker who is a minister. I showed a video on our large plasma televisions from CNN, with lots of footage from that day and the days afterward depicting the tragedy and how our nation tried to grapple with it.
Last night I read an article in USA Today that asked the question, should we continue to remember and mark this date publically, or should we not? How helpful and/or healing is forgetting?
I had just turned 27 when the planes crashed and burned and buildings toppled that day, killing thousands of people. I remember exactly where I was. I was in graduate school at the University of Georgia in the College Student Affairs program and had just left a statistics class. Another person in the program, Tanya, stopped me in the hallway and asked me if I had heard that America was under attack. I cannot remember the last time I saw Tanya, and I don't know where she is now, but that conversation with her, that bit of significance in my life will live in my memory for a long while. I quickly headed back to the dormitory where I worked as a graduate resident and found the large television on in the lobby, CNN tuned in, with hundreds of students watching. Some of them were crying, some were scrambling to call family members or friends in New York, and some were simply mesmerized by what was unfolding in front of their eyes. I started watching CNN almost around the clock, and I had never watched the news before, aside from being forced to sit through it when I was a kid and my father turned it on. I had never felt threatened as an American, even though three of my family members had fought overseas on behalf of America. I was 27 years old, and I had never felt unsafe or vunerable simply because of the soil I stepped onto each day to walk to class. What a priviledged life I had led.
I started keeping up with the national news that day, watching and reading CNN in addition to my usual daily Red and Black student newspaper. I started to develop an interest in people who had to live in countries constantly threatened by suicide bombers or military police, or coup de etats hiding and operating in the darkness of night. I started that day to take more pride in the American flag, the nation itself where I was so priviledged to grow up, and the men and women who defended that freedom at the drop of a hat (or building), risking their lives to do so. I started to think about people whose very job requires that they be willing to sacrifice their own lives to save and help others in danger, such as the hundreds of firefighters and police men and women who died that day.
Perhaps it is okay to forget that which brings us insufferable pain, I don't know. Again, I was lucky. I didn't know anyone who died that day. So for all of you who did, for all of you that need to forget, I will hold the candle. I'll remember the day that changed my perspective on life and death, on sacrifice and freedom, on love and hate, on religion and sin.