Comparative Imperative: Remembering Versus Never Forgetting

For the last 14 years, so many people mark this date with their stories of where they were. Of course I remember where I was, but that is not what I think about or what matters. So much has happened in these 14 years that has changed us and changed me. The groundlessness that we all seemed to feel that day and for weeks following, was daunting. The trauma, even for those who just watched, was disconcerting, and fear and anxiety quickly filled those spaces where safety and security once grounded us. The shared trauma was briefly unifying, but we were blown apart that day.

In 14 years, there have been several crises and horrors and unstable conditions that have made the new normal feel anything but normal. We have been crippled by terrorism, by extreme storms, incompetent responses, economic disaster, and those fixated on hate and violence, as well as righteousness at the expense of others. We have neglected our first responders, our veterans, our indigent, our children, their schools, those who look different, act different, or sound different. We became fixated on images—even images of ourselves, more than the possibility of ourselves.

The #NeverForget is everywhere. I noticed that I have a bit of a resistance to this imperative. It’s a negative imperative. It’s not that it’s incorrect, or that the postings of the photos of the fireball that was the impact at the World Trade center are not appropriate. It’s the fixation on the horror that feeds our negative emotions and responses that I want to shift.

I want to remember. I want everyone to remember. The conjuring of the past is not really different. It’s the focus that needs to shift. I don’t want to whitewash the horror that was 9/11. I just don’t want to cling to a moment that was impossible to comprehend or digest, and suggest that that’s all we should consider. When those planes crashed in NY, DC and in Pennsylvania, we were horrified and also saddened. We lost so many, and we could feel for those whom we never met. We had a connection, albeit in terror.

When I see images of a recent rainbow over Manhattan, I feel the anguish of this day, and recall the horror, but my heart doesn’t constrict with fear, anxiety, or hate. I actually feel love. Love for NY; love for the promise and potential of this country despite so much that seems contrary at present, and for much that I get to enjoy each day here. When I see the images of the 9/11 Tribute lights at Ground Zero that have been illuminating the night sky on this tragic anniversary since 2002, I recall the horror, but am moved by the beauty in it’s place.

The #NeverForget seems to me to have us return to terror and the natural feelings of fear, anxiety and revenge that well up. I certainly can’t forget that horrifying day and the weeks that ensued, and even the months and years of threats and security precautions that elevated my own sense of foreboding. But that negative imperative bothers me. I prefer to remember—to consider the events that occurred, and the (positive) possibilities that can occur. I can’t live clinging to the negative. I must include the negative, as that is so much of life and certainly of the memory of this day. But clinging to the negative doesn’t move us forward.

The memory of this day may be painful, but the imperative can’t be negative. When we cling to our fears and operate from a place of fear, rather than include fear, we become more limited—the opposite of free. We remember not just where we were, or how we were, but we remember other people and lives and possibilities. We honor their memory with life and light. Our imperative is life affirming .

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