9/11 anniversary: Why remembering in fits and starts is OK
Working on a book about 9/11 survivors, I found I could only immerse myself in interview footage in fits and starts, much as our nation remembers September 11. That's how mourning – public and private – works. To heal, we have to let ourselves both forget and remember.
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A Slate study done by writer Meghan O’Rourke and psychologist Leeat Granek found that only 7 percent of the 8,000 people surveyed said that they felt skillfully supported by friends, family, and colleagues as they grieved. Ms. O’Rourke and Ms. Granek write, “The most surprising aspect of the results is how basic the expressed needs were, and yet how profoundly unmet many of these needs went.” In that sense, anniversaries like the one we recognize this September 11 are a way to do the profound and necessary work of acknowledging loss.Skip to next paragraph
For those who didn’t lose someone directly, but felt that the nation changed, September 11th rolls around each year and offers a moment to take stock of what has become of us as a result of that fateful day.
IN PICTURES: September 11: Revisiting Ground Zero
Just as I dipped in and out of the footage looking for insights about how we were healed and changed by the events of 9/11, an anniversary like this is a moment for the public at-large to “dip in” to our own collective consciousness and ask ourselves profound and necessary questions: Who are we, as a nation, 10 years later? Are we proud of the ways in which we have responded to the violence we endured? What did we learn that day that we have forgotten? How can we excavate the best of what we’ve let get buried?
As Pulitzer Prize winning writer Gail Caldwell beautifully put it, “We never get over great losses, we absorb them.” That absorption, it seems to me, takes years of diving down into the muck of our memories and our melancholy, and then swimming back to the surface for some sunshine. There is nothing phony or neglectful about the fits and starts of public memorialization. It reflects the most natural and complex elements of our psychic resilience.
In order to heal – both privately and publicly – we have to give ourselves permission to both forget and remember.
Courtney E. Martin is the author of the new book, “Project Rebirth: Survival and the Strength of the Human Spirit from 9/11 Survivors," as well as “Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists,” "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body," and coeditor of the anthology “Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists.” She is also an editor at feministing.com. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.