Saturday, September 10, 2011

Who is allowed to remember?

I don't take anything away from those who lost family and friends in the 9/11 attacks. They are, for me, a kind of family, like all the widows I know, all the bereaved people I know who have suffered. I want to say that right up front. Their pain, their grief, is as valid as mine, even a decade later.

That is not my issue.

What keeps running through my head is this: We have been reminded, exhorted, and otherwise encouraged to never forget that day, to keep the wound fresh, seemingly so it can be exploited by any number of people for whatever self-serving reasons they may have, most likely control and commerce. People who are passionately angry can be riled up and swayed. People who are afraid can be influenced and coerced. However cynical that may be, the fact of the matter is, as a nation we have been in mourning, actively grieving, for a full decade. And it's been encouraged everywhere you look. Even people who were not personally affected by the 9/11 attacks are encouraged to wear widow's weeds for a nation that died that day and was reborn as something different, something vulnerable, something afraid.

As someone who got a month, tops, before people were bored and uncomfortable with my widowhood and explaining to me that I needed to grieve better, faster, and more correctly, I really don't understand the patience and passion it takes to keep an entire nation, the majority of which was only affected emotionally and intellectually, not personally, by the tragedies and the loss of so many lives, in mourning for 10 full years and counting. Did the 9/11 widows and widowers get 10 years of compassion, of genuine empathy, of listening, as they tried to put their lives back together? Maybe in New York, where the scar of the attack burned and smoldered for so long, where the skyline had changed so dramatically, where there was no way anyone there could forget...maybe there was more compassion for longer. But what about the families of the people on those planes from other parts of the country? Did their neighbors and coworkers and friends soon get tired of their grief? I've read the stories, because they've abounded in the last week, of people who HAVE rebuilt their lives. They have moved forward, and healed. It's a good thing; it's just that their nation hasn't followed suit. If the USA were another widow in this emotional place after 10 years, we'd say she was stuck. Really stuck. But we're not saying it.

I don't know. I really don't. But I suspect that the patience for individual grief, even for those who lost loved ones through this heinous act of murder, was still too brief than it seems to be for national grief. Where grief-stricken individuals are pushed to "get better" and "move on" and heal as soon as is convenient for their observers, the level of pathos, of anger, of vowed retribution seems unabated in all this time, and the scab is regularly pulled off the wound wherever it seems useful to do so. Why is the general impatience with grieving suspended in this case?

I guess I feel some anger and confusion that at 5 years out, I'm supposed to be well over having been widowed, and I certainly should not be still talking about it, but as an American, I'm never supposed to get over 9/11. In fact, I feel like the message being broadcast is that it's my patriotic duty to never move forward from it; I'm supposed to be just as hurt and angry and torn up about it as I was the day it happened.

What is that about?


  1. I agree, in so many ways. But I also have going through my head, Yes, but they only want you to remember ("never forget"?) 9/11 solely around the yearly anniversary…a few brief days, maybe as much as two weeks, once a year. While I'm fascinated by parts of the events, the breakdowns of what happened before/during/after, and other historical or psychological aspects of it, I'm also a bit repulsed by the hoopla about it…for probably the same reasons as you wrote. My in-laws and I watched several hour-long documentaries on 9/11 last weekend when I was in GP, and I found them all fascinating…except for the one of moronic G "Dubbya." I couldn't restrain my annoyed outbursts toward the idiot/TV, especially every time I heard him describe himself as a "wartime president." (Yeah, a war you mostly manufactured, you idiot! I shrieked…usually *mostly* in my own head. ;o))

    It's such a murky, complicated issue and remembrance--and possibly even more so for those of us who intimately know loss and death, who carry so many shared experiences as those whose loved ones died on 9/11. I know it affects me completely differently now, as a widow, than it did between 2001 and 2004. It doesn't help any that I know and am friends now with a 9/11 widow, which puts a little too personal face on my remembrances too.

    Thanks for being brave enough to approach this topic in this way….


  2. I wish I felt like they only brought it up around the anniversary. But my impression is that it's constantly being invoked by politicians, newspeople, and by the fact that we're daily embroiled in two wars stemming directly from the event. I feel like it never goes away, and just gets louder around the anniversary.

    I have no impatience for the remembrances of actual survivors. They are entitled to whatever emotions they have about the whole thing, as I am about my whole thing. It's that others are co-opting it for reasons that seem unworthy, cheap, and sometimes even sleazy. They pretend that they're honoring the fallen and the survivors, and maybe some of them truly think they are; but I think by appropriating other people's genuine grief, they dishonor those they claim to honor, and themselves.