The events of September 11, 2001, are forever ingrained in the memories of Americans (and people around the world) who were old enough to remember the day. Who could forget the terrifying videos and images paired with the stories of heroic courage coming out of New York, Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon that infamous day? And it’s to our credit that we don’t forget. We should never forget but always remember the lives lost on 9/11.
Why is it so important to remember?
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief counselor and educator, has found that remembrance is an important part of grieving. We can’t move forward (healing) until we look back (remembrance). In his own words, he says:
I encourage you to take grief’s hand and let it lead you through the darkness and toward the light. You may not see the light at first, but forge ahead with courage, and with the faith that the light of hope and happiness does exist. Feel your pain, sorrow, sadness, disbelief, agony, heartbreak, fear, anxiety, and loneliness as much as you can.
This may seem odd, as these emotions could well be the ones you most want to avoid. You might fall into the common thinking of our society that denying these feelings will make them go away. You might have the urge to “keep your chin up” and stay busy and wait to “get over” your grief. Yet, ironically, the only way to help these hard feelings pass is to wade in the muck of them. To get in and get dirty. Grief isn’t clean, tidy, or convenient. Yet feeling it and expressing it is the only way to feel whole, once again.
In other words, in order to heal, we must grieve. In order to grieve, we must remember. As we remember, we must find the courage to face the feelings deep within us.
How does the act of remembrance help us as communities and a nation?
1. Remembrance creates an opportunity to share life stories
In so many ways, telling a life story is an essential part of healing. As we learn more about the individual stories of those who perished on 9/11, we are forced to confront the pain and suffering of that day. Even more than that, we see each victim as a person worthy of value. A person deeply loved by others, many of whom are still living. A person whose life was cut short but whose memory lives forever.
By telling the stories of the airline passengers, the firefighters, the bankers, the receptionists, the military personnel, the bystanders, and so many more, we grapple with the national and personal grief we feel and honor the lives of those lost to horrifying events.
2. Remembrance strengthens community bonds
In remembering and grieving together as a nation, we strengthen the bonds in our community. Ask a person born before 1994 where they were when the Twin Towers fell, and they can likely give you a detailed description of exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.
Every American was touched by the events of 9/11 in some way. As we mark this day, even so many years later, it’s a chance to remember together, to mourn together, and to connect to each other in a profound way. If possible, consider attending a 9/11 remembrance event in your area where you can connect with your community while honoring the lives of those lost.
3. Remembrance re-connects us to our past
We’ve all seen how details can be forgotten or overlooked with the passage of time, even in our own memories. By taking time to intentionally remember, we can connect with the past. We can learn from what has already happened. We can pave the way toward a better future.
Conversations about a painful event are not something to be feared. Healing doesn’t come from blocking out what has happened but from acknowledging it and facing it. By intentionally remembering the events of 9/11 and the lives of those who died, we participate in a healing action – a ritual – that will not only bring hope and healing but will ensure that lives were not lost in vain.
This year, as we remember September 11th, let’s reflect on what matters most in life. That’s exactly what a group of students in a New York classroom did one year after 9/11. This is what they had to say:
We were eight.
Before September 11th, we would wake up with a list of “Don’t Forgets”
Don’t forget to wash your face
Don’t forget to brush your teeth
Don’t forget to do your homework
Don’t forget to wear your jacket
Don’t forget to clean your room
Don’t forget to take a bath
After September 11th, we wake up with a list of “Remembers”
Remember to greet the sun each morning
Remember to enjoy every meal
Remember to thank your parents for their hard work
Remember to honor those who keep you safe
Remember to value each person you meet
Remember to respect others’ beliefs
Now we are nine.
So, let us remember. Let us be unified. Let us never forget and be the better for it.