Tuesday September 11, 2007 @ 09:04 PM (UTC)

It’s September 11th again. Today we are told, over and over, never to forget 2,998 people that most of us did not know. ‘Never forget,’ I read, and wonder. How do you forget, or hold in your memory, someone you do not know? How can you value them, or their memory, except as individual lives? Those lives are precious both despite and because of their commonness, the humanity we all share and by virtue of which we all claim value, dignity, rights.

I can’t forget these dead, nor can I remember them. They are not my dead, and they cannot live in me as my dead friends, as my dead relatives, as even dead strangers whose words I’ve loved can and do. Why then am I asked to remember them?

Why should I remember those three thousand, and not the hundreds of thousands dead in Darfur, just as unnaturally? Because of patriotism, or of proximal ethics? If I should remember those dead, rather than the 70,000 dead civilians in Iraq, because the innocents killed in 2001 were closer to me, or shared my nationality, why should I remember them rather than the over 6,000 American women and men who have been murdered by their spouses or partners since the attacks?

What if this act of memory to which we are invited isn’t really about those 2,998? About their names, faces, hopes, or families? What can it accomplish? I can only imagine, as I see another string of Photoshop tributes, that their creators and consumers must get a feeling from them, perhaps akin to what I might feel listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or, perhaps more aptly, to Holst’s “Mars, Bringer of War.” The heart expands, and the body floods with primal energy—with passion. Is it to feel that passion that uninvolved people refresh their horror and stoke their anger up with public acts of memory and grief?

Or is it the clarity that passion brings them? The dead I’ve mentioned are victims of domestic violence, of our own colonialistic folly, of racial hatred and economic powerplays. Systemic problems that evolve and worsen over time. Problems that can only be solved with forethought, deliberation, and reason; often by changing the situation that gave them rise. We as a society, perhaps even as a species, don’t like systemic problems. We like our villains centralized and clearly labeled, our courses of action smooth and broad. America’s straightforward charge against a complex terrorism problem has taken us deeper and deeper into confusion and remorse. Perhaps on September 11, 2001, the way lay clear before these passionate rememberists. Perhaps they want to feel that way one more time.

For myself, on that day, I felt sorrow and a sick foreboding about what would happen next. I need no prompting and no Photoshopped towers to feel that way again.


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