This article appeared in the September 07, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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How we choose to remember 9/11

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File
After the 9/11 attacks halted air traffic, the return of vapor trails in the sky, like this one seen slicing through the clouds in Moab, Utah, brought collective relief.

Sept. 11’s defining moment for me came on 9/14 in a raspberry patch outside Boston – in a moment of collective relief among scattered strangers.

We all have that “where were you when” memory of events like 9/11, the Apollo moon landing, or JFK’s assassination. But the meaning of those memories can percolate over time. 

Twenty years after 9/11, the word “anniversary” carries an oddly celebratory tone, admits Frank Ochberg, the psychiatrist at Michigan State University who helped define the term post-traumatic stress disorder. Yet, he adds, “we have a right to celebrate as we memorialize” – to celebrate “the values that we cherish.” 

The event created what Dr. Ochberg calls “flashbulb” memories – moments around which we build spiritual, political, and moral meaning. 

I hold two enduring flashbulb moments of 9/11. 

On Sept. 13, I opened The Boston Globe to a photo of the familiar facade of the dumpy Park Inn motel in Newton, Massachusetts. Here, three hijackers apparently spent the days before their grisly mission. I passed the motel daily to drop my 3-year-old at preschool, the guest room windows close enough to see through. It was a chilling sense of proximity of terror.

And then, the flashbulb antidote: On Sept. 14, my daughter and I were among a dozen people in a suburban berry field, the raspberry stain growing on her T-shirt, when suddenly in the sky that had been silent for days, a commercial jet out of Logan International Airport roared overhead, close enough, it seemed, to see rivet dimples on the belly of the fuselage.

Its normalcy was a spectacular blue-sky moment – people exhaled sighs, shed tears. We were sharing a collective moment, small but vivid, in perceiving that life marked by historic tragedy could – would – find balance.

This article appeared in the September 07, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 09/07 edition
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