Each year, in my classroom, I deal with the echoes of 9/11/2001.
This year, after the Pledge of Allegiance was recited over the loudspeaker, instead of the usual brief moment of silence, our principal reminded us of what day it was, and asked that we remember those who died. A slightly longer moment of silence ensued.
For me, even an extended "moment of silence" is at once too much and too little remembrance: just enough reminder of the day to awaken my grief, but nowhere near enough time for me to center down, remember properly, and share my sadness with God. I've got the kids to teach, the attendance to take, and I will not be able to do those things if I let myself really honor that particular anniversary in the brief moment our school deems appropriate.
Mine is a school system that is small, rural, and far from Manhattan. Few families have connections in New York. But we have sent a number of graduates or members of our community into the military, and some have died. I've had more than one student stop by my classroom and inform me of the date they are shipping out, and it is one of the most painful moments in teaching for me.
We're not untouched by the changes in the world since 9/11, in other words. But time is passing, and most of the students I teach are freshmen. I realize that I cannot continue to assume that the teenagers in front of me remember the day vividly, as I do. This year, for the first time when the subject arose, I asked whether my students remembered, rather than assumed they did. And they spoke of being young, second graders, and of how the grown-ups around them reacted, and of how they did not understand at first what had happened; how they were afraid airplanes were coming to attack their houses.
They remember 9/11 dimly, in other words, through the lens of childhood, as I remember the assassination of Martin Luther King.
In years to come, my students will not remember at all. And truly appropriate remembrance of the losses of that day--as opposed to formulaic, conventional ones like a school announcement--will fit even more badly into a school-wide moment of silence.
But I remember 9/11.
I remember the day, yes. But for me, the most powerful memories are not of the news itself, but of the aftermath. I've written of my own immediate aftermath, the sudden (I'm tempted to say, "violent") arrival of the peace testimony, elsewhere.
But there is also that other aftermath--of the stories I heard, later, from those who had lost or almost lost someone they loved; of those who fled the collapse of the towers or witnessed the moments after the crash of the planes.
I have written before about the Nameless Gathering in Upstate New York. So many New Yorkers attend that event, and so many were carrying heavy, heavy burdens of anger and grief and fear that year. I am grateful to thank my friend Judy Harrow, who invited me to join her and our friend Geoff Miller in facilitating a kind of debriefing circle. Today, when I remember 9/11, I remember being present for the stories I heard from my friends and my Pagan family.
Never, never will I find words powerful enough for the sense of honor and privilege I feel for having been there with my community in that terrible time.
Thank you, friends, for letting me hear your stories. Thank you for letting me share with you the movements of your hearts and the images that had burned themselves into your eyes. Thank you for letting me hold you--sometimes literally and each of you in my heart. Thank you to those who saw from a distance, who ran in fear, who remembered and and felt and listened and spoke. Thank you for letting me be with you.
Thanks especially to Fireman X., who led a memorial service that weekend for the first responders who died in the attacks. I know that G would have given a good deal, and very possibly his life, to have been working beside them on that day, and I know that it must have been a little bit like dying too, to be reduced to attending the funerals, the endless chain of funerals, hearing the bagpipes again and again and again. Thank you, X., for remembering so deeply, and mourning so true. Part of me stands under the stars, remembering alongside you, even now.
Now, in the days when jingoism has driven out grief, when remembrance is banished to a loudspeaker announcement, I want you, my people, my friends, to know that as you are remembering, I am remembering, too. Not in a single moment on a single day, but in a cool, still well, down in the deepest places of my heart and my being. Down in the deep places, you are always there. Down in the deep places, memory lasts.
Thank you for being my community. Thank you for the gifts of friendship and love in the midst of grief. And thank you for being alive, and for being who you are. I treasure you forever.
Natale, Michael. "9/11 Memorial Tiles: NYC We Are Strong." GammaBlog. 9 February 2005. 13 September 2008. <http://gammablog.com/2005/02/09/911-memorial-tiles/>
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