Why We Must Remember the Day We All Want to Forget
Published: Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 19, 2012 22:09
Nine days and 11 years ago, our perspectives changed forever. Events are the engines of history, memorable for their representation of important ideas. This is the very essence of history. Sept. 11 is the perfect example of this idea, representing humanity at its most powerful and its most horrible.
Just as our parent’s generation will tell you exactly what they were doing when JFK was assassinated, each of us has a story about Sept. 11. I grew up 56 miles away from the World Trade Center in a community that spills commuters into Manhattan every day. Many I knew experienced this tragedy first hand.
The terror at the Pentagon and over rural Pennsylvania spread this nightmare even further. Blessed by the safety of family and friends, Sept. 11 nonetheless taught me that life could be scarier than I had understood it to be.
I can clearly remember getting picked up from school with my friend that Tuesday morning by my mom. She took us back to my house where my father, my brother and my friend’s entire family joined us. We sat, we watched, we cried and we tried to make sense of it all. We called family, we comforted friends. I felt lucky, even as a little girl, but it seemed that life would never be the same again. And perhaps that’s true.
That day of modern infamy holds truths to be commemorated. That devastating day of sadness illuminates the importance of true love, demonstrates the bravery and selfless courage which we are capable of, challenges us to find a balance between freedom and security, warns us of the danger of cultural misunderstanding and confirms for us the importance of remembrance. There’s a lot to make sense of here, and these points are touchstones for reflection.
Life can be indifferent to our feelings, even painful and cruel. Sept. 11 should remind us that life is dear, that love is all-important, and that we need to value the things that are important to us every day. Family and friends deserve our best, and we need to find ways to work past our conflicts and troubles to celebrate what is most fundamental about who we are. We need to appreciate and be grateful. Our families and our communities – including the Smith College community – deserve the very best of who we are always.
Bravery and courage. Hundreds of first-response workers lost their lives in and around the World Trade Center, running upstairs as others ran down. Site workers suffered from irreparable respiratory damage; medical specialists, counselors and teachers healed and comforted; and the worst of circumstances brought out the best in us. We need to remember this idea: we have the best in us all the time, and we need to find ways in which to tap into our own magnificence. We have so much to offer, and our capacity for positive change is incredible. There’s no denying the fact that it feels good to do good.
Freedom and security.
We live in an age where security costs us some of our freedoms. We don’t have the same privacy, and we can’t simply go about our business as we used to. For the most part, this is no big deal. Travel security is a blessing and a curse. TSA inspections and small bottles in carry-ons are doable, and they’re a fair trade for our safety. In the wake of such an awful attack, it makes sense that our guard is up, but we need to be ready to protect our liberties and our personal space, too. Our digital footprints are tracks to be easily exploited, and it’s saddening to think that so much information is so easily collected about each and all of us. This seems to beg our attention, but most of us are oblivious to what it all means. The post-Sept. 11 world has a digital and different landscape.
Cultural understanding. What the Sept. 11 terrorists did was inexcusable, to say the absolute least. One root of their anger was their perception that American culture and power was an affront to their religion and a threat to their way of life. We live in a global age, and it behooves us to try to better understand our neighbors, who aren’t as far away as we think. It’s frightening to think that people who live in a world so small can experience such hatred.
Remembrance. Remembrance is a powerful, powerful thing, perhaps the most important element of experience. We can’t forget Sept. 11, and we shouldn’t forget the lessons and ideas we’re learning every day here and at home. If you take a course and don’t get something out of it that you can put to good use down the road, why take the class? This sounds prudish, and learning can be valued simply for learning’s sake, but we’re exposed to ideas here every day that we should remember. Of course, none of us had any control over what happened on that heartbreaking day 11 years ago. But here’s what we do have control over: remembering what’s important about our lives, about ourselves, about the ones we love and the ones we lost.
Sept. 11 is the big date of our thus-far short lives, and it has changed us for better and for worse. But it is rich in meaning, and this means that our reflections are justified, important and maybe even transformational.