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    Forgetting September 11th

    It's strange to be cajoled, everywhere you turn, to "remember" September 11. It's not like we've forgotten it. Who needs a reminder of this? It's like being told "Remember gravity!"or "Remember oxygen!" I am reminded every day, thanks. It's all around us.

    I used to think very specifically about the September 11th attacks at least twice a day, for the simple reason that I owned a clock. Every day, morning and evening, one digital display or another would flash that 9:11 at me and I would notice. I would also be reminded when working out at the gym, nine minutes and eleven seconds after I had started on each particular machine; since I often used two or three on indoor-cardio days, I could count on my heart rate spiking two or three times every session. On September 11, 2006, I think I did exactly nine minutes and eleven seconds, as fast and as hard as I could, on five machines. I didn't need a reminder about the fifth anniversary, either.

    Sometimes, these days, I look at my watch and it's nine thirteen, or nine seventeen. When I'm doing penance on the exercise bike I no longer tend to notice when the 551st second of the workout goes past. And I no longer look at all the big flat-screens at the gym with that dreadful apprehension I used to feel, thinking of what a horrible place that room would be the next time we were attacked, how it would be to have all those TVs playing the next September 11th footage at once. These days I can go two weeks, sometimes three, without experiencing a visual memory of people falling to their deaths. Is that forgetting September 11? Hell no. I'll remember the attacks until I'm put in the ground myself. There's no forgetting. It's too late.

    It's true that I now remember September 11th differently than I did two or five years after the attacks. It no longer feels as if I am reliving the experience of the original day. I no longer feel the full emotion of that day seizing my body, the shock and numbed fury and stomach-churning grief. Or perhaps I should say that memory brings me those emotions less often, and less fully. I can think of that day without locking myself in an instant replay. I can remember it as part of a whole. But that is not forgetting. It's only in the last five years or so that it has become a genuine memory. Before that it was a flashback.

    Sometimes, when I hear people saying "Never forget," what I hear them trying to say is "Do not change the way you remember those events. Do not gain distance from the feelings that you experienced that day. Do not allow the passage of time to change your perspective. Do not let September 11th diminish in significance. Make sure it looms across your awareness the way it did that morning, blocking out everything else, as if there would never be any other, newer day. Do not move your heart from that day." Maybe not everyone who says it means that, and probably not all of them mean all of it. But it's hard for me to know what else they could be saying, when they're talking about not forgetting things that are impossible to forget.

    There are people who remember events in the past as clearly as if they are living them, every single day. They're called trauma victims. Many of our veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq can remember the traumas of battle there as if they had never left, as if the most terrible eighty seconds of their lives had never stopped happening. In fact, they can't not remember those horrible events, so they really will be in Afghanistan or Iraq until those memories become less vivid and intense, until they become painful memories instead of return tickets to hell.

    Part of the response to a terrible event such as September 11th is to attach importance to it. The pain and horror you felt on that day can only make sense if it is somehow for a reason, if that event that cost you so unbearably much is monumental and unforgettable. That's an understandable reaction. But making that bargain means giving the terrible event power over you forever. Refusing to move on, because you need to honor the original pain, someday becomes a way to increase the pain. And you let the trauma take over your life.

    I understand that many, many people need to find a meaning in the terrible events. But I cannot bring myself to. The things that happened that day were only bad, unbearably bad. They achieved nothing good. They had no reason. The were fully and entirely wrong. We did not become a better or stronger country because three thousand of us were murdered. We were a good country already, and we did not deserve to be attacked that way. No one who was killed, no one who lost anyone, deserved that loss. And we did not learn any lesson. Osama bin Ladin had nothing to teach us. He never could have. I will not give the terrorists or their murders credit that they do not deserve. I will not make September 11th the most important day in our history. It was only one of the worst.

    And I will confess that it has always been my hope, since even a few days after the attacks, that September 11th would be forgotten over time. Not for me, or by me. It's too late for anyone of my generation. But I want, have always wanted, for those days to become a distant, historical memory for the next generation to be born, and the generation after that. I want September 11th to become a boring fact in a history book, no sadder and no more important than Antietam or Little Big Horn or the Battle of Long Island. Because it won't be until the memory of September 11th fades that we have won.

    The things that your country remembers forever are the defeats it did not come back from. The scars. The wounds. If our grandchildren think of September 11th the way we do, with shock and fear, if they are still angry about September 11 fifty years from today, it will be because we failed, because we never returned to being the country we once were. The point of fighting terrorism is for our grandchildren to live in a world where they are not in fear of terrorism. If they are still furious, and still fighting, fifty years from today, then we will have lost. I hope, I pray, for September 11th to become a faded and forgotten memory, a footnote written by violent men whose violence could not change the main course of history.


    Thank you.

    I am a New Yorker, and I thank you for writing this, because I feel the same way. 

    Thank you.


    Thanks for posting this. I agree with every word.

    Thank you. Reposting.

    Yours are my thoughts for the day so far, except eloquently and beautifully expressed.

    I can think of two public reasons to want to remember 9/11/01 in ways that could be beneficial going forward.  

    One is to remind ourselves there are people and organizations out there that mean us grievous harm.  And we need to be alert and vigilant in protecting ourselves from that specific threat, without going out of our way or obsessing about being alert and vigilant about it, and without concocting phantom threats, as we have too often done over the past 10 years.

    As it turns out, the political party that has done the most to exploit 9/11 for political gain is the party that was asleep at the switch in protecting us from al qaeda, from the day it took power, and despite special pleas from its immediate predecessors to be vigilant and alert about defending the country, from al qaeda.

    A second public reason to remember 9/11 is to honor the work that public employees did at that time, and continue to do every day.  In addition to the on-site emergency workers who will be the major focus of public remembrances today, this includes the work of school teachers.  Many of them were the first adults who sought to reassure and protect our children on that day.  And many of them played crucial roles in efforts to help our kids cope and move on in the weeks and months to come.  This was the case, notwithstanding that many of them were themselves traumatized, yet put aside their own emotional needs, to be there for their kids.

    As it turns out, the political party which has adamantly refused to provide votes to prevent the layoffs of many of these public employees, and indeed has sought to exploit current state budget crises to facilitate such layoffs, is the political party that has most aggressively sought to exploit 9/11 and its memory for political gain.  Notwithstanding that the economic circumstances leading to these layoffs were in significant part the results of the economic and political philosophy this political party has been most ardently and aggressively promoting over the past 30 years.  And notwithstanding that preventing layoffs of public employees would mitigate the current poor economic conditions.

    So.  Not to politicize 9/11.  But we might also want to remember which political party has most sought to exploit it for political gain, and what its performance and philosophy say about its own adherence to, and real learning from, the legitimate things we should take away from 9/11.

    Republicans are still exploiting 9/11 for partisan gain:

    New York GOP Exploits 9/11 Anniversary, Sends Islamophobic Mailer To Voters In NY Special Election

    You are implicating a subtlety of thought that is foreign to the American electorate.

    We are capable only of such concentration as is required to grunt three syllables...."You Ess Ay"

    Doc, I hear you loud and clear and appreciate your rational and good faith admonition to us.  But, respectfully, I hope we never forget what happened on 9/11--I hope it always seems like yesterday, and I hope that it is long considered in the mix as we make decisions in the years to come.  And I hope those decisions are good ones, and sound, and moral ones too.

    I understand that a 9/11 worldview in some forms can be destructive.  Heaven knows we've seen that over the past decade.  But no political faction or worldview has a monopoly on what we learn from 9/11, and in particular those who would use 9/11 as a battle-cry as an end in itself, have no such monopoly.  Collective memory is there. We cannot and must not shy away from it, or from what we take with us as a result of what happened. 

    I knew two of the people who died ten years ago today, Eric who was a boyhood friend of mine from Patchogue, and Adam whom I had come to know as a fellow Dad and train slave (commuter) from Plainview, NY.  I watched Adam's daughter celebrate her Bat Mitzvah around a month after Adam was murdered.   They said nary a word on that day about what happened on 9/11--but they had not then and do not now come close to forgetting about what happened.  And G-d willing, the children that Adam, Eric, and so many others left on that day will not be forgotten.

    Yeah, I'm with you, Bruce. I get what Doc is trying to say but I think he's using the wrong terminology.

    I hope people never forget Hiroshima. I hope people never forget the Holocaust. Just like I hope I never forget my mother's slow torturous death in the ICU, how and why it happened, the trauma it caused my extended family and the circumstances following it.

    Forgetting is what people with amnesia do because they can't handle trauma in reality. They go to another reality where the bad thing didn't happen.

    When we take oral histories from older people, we hope they haven't forgotten what happened and what it was like, that time has not altered their memory.

    The title of the following is apropos:

    'It Wasn't a Dream'
    By Bob Herbert, New York Times
    Published: September 13, 2001

    When I got to this point in Herbert's essay, I started to cry:

    The Police Department has a large number of body bags, but I'm told they have 6,000 more coming in from Tennessee. I don't think people understand the scope of this yet. Fish companies are calling up, saying, 'What do you need? You need refrigerated trucks? We have them. Where do you want them?' "

    I hope I don't lose those emotions as I age.

    I hope I never forget the way most of the country came together to support the often ridiculed if not despised liberal NYC (not to mention Wall Street workers,) especially since I haven't seen that kind of unity in this country since. I'll never forget that there are people out there for whom an ideology can inspire them to use innocent people on an airplane as weapons against other innocent people. People that could actually do such a thing with foresight, planning and purpose and actually follow through with it as the innocents screamed. I hope I never forget that much larger death and mayhem was intended with this operation. That the U.S. Capitol or the White House may also have been destroyed. And how clear it was at the time, not knowing how many missiles were out there, that the intent was to paralyze our world.

    I hope I never forget that the center for the defense of our country, the Pentagon (as much as we left of center tend to dislike how it is operated,) was unprotected from such an attack and took a direct hit that could have been much more devastating. And that our top leader was missing in action, that our centers of power were very ill-prepared, but that nonetheless this country broke out in empathy and unity, and not into chaos and anarchy.

    Thanks, Bruce. I would respectfully say that I agree with half of this statement:

    I hope it always seems like yesterday, and I hope that it is long considered in the mix as we make decisions in the years to come.

    I also hope (and expect) that it those events will be "considered in the mix" when we make decisions. We would be fools to forget. But I think when they "seem like yesterday," when there seems to be no past between us and the memory, then events aren't considered in the mix, but become the whole mix. And that's where we get ourselves in trouble. We're right to remember that danger, and guard against future events like it. But if we allow the memory to block out everything else, we start treating that as the only danger we face and doing things that actually endanger us.

    I'm not arguing for forgetting those events. (As I say several times above, I could not possibly forget.) I am arguing for integrating the memories.

    Look, a few years ago I was in a frightening car accident. I wasn't hurt, and no one else was either, but my car was totaled and it was pretty clear that I had come within two or three feet of being killed. I am certainly never going to forget that. But initially I had to learn how to keep that traumatic memory from overriding everything else and endangering me.

    The first time I was in a car after the accident (by which I mean, riding in the back seat of a car), I felt panic seizing my chest. I was in a car on the highway! I could be killed! My body was ready for the full freakout panic response, and my memory ready to serve up a feels-like-live skidding-toward-the-truck-headlights replay, when I got in a car.

    I had to get control and teach myself not to relive the event whenever I got a ride from someone. Then I had to repeat that process the first time I drove a car myself, and again the first time I drove on a highway, and then again the first time I drove in the snow (because the accident had happened in a blizzard), and yet again when I drove in more than a few flakes of snow. The traumatic memory had to be integrated into a larger whole, as one thing to remember instead of the only thing in the world to remember. Having done that, I'm still a very careful driver in the winter. I don't block out the memory or ignore its lesson; I use it to make myself safer. But if I allowed the traumatic memory to take over and override everything else, I couldn't drive a car without becoming a danger to myself and to other drivers. Of course I remember the accident. But I have also gained a little distance from it, which allows me to function. I used to relive it. Now I remember it. They're different things.

    I share the wish for the event to become a distant memory in the sense you emphasize; We don't have to remain paralyzed for the rest of our lives to express sorrow and give respect to those who are gone or keep that time clear in our minds.

    The people who struck their blow wanted to teach us a lesson. They hated the way our system created so many structures in their lives when we were barely cognizant of their existence. They wanted us to start directly fighting them instead of using our "partners" as Janissairies.

    Well, we totally blew their minds by attacking one of our former partners while letting Al Qaeda reorganize in Pakistan. Who knows if they saw that coming.  Whatever is the truth about what happened, there is something to be learned after the attack. Learned by us.

    The best counter I can imagine against those who carried out the attacks is not the obliteration of everyone who assisted them or cheered them on or used the loss of innocents as the call/permit for the death of innocents but to have the recognition they have undoubtedly gained for themselves be the cause of the very future they gave their lives to avoid. But that sort of thing can only happen amongst them; the opposite of some neo=con vision of global syntax. It is not a fight if you have to feel the giving of the blow to tell you it is happening.

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