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the art of remembering

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

On the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we are reminded of the horrors of that day. Are we actually remembering, or only refusing to forget?

The term “generational shift” is used when defining the end of one generation of people and the beginning of a new one.

Most generational shifts are due to a traumatic or unprecedented event occurring at a young age which sets the stage for an entire generation’s worldview.

For instance, the "Baby Boomer" generation (~1946-1964) came about on the heels of WWII and grew up in the early stages of the Cold War which coincided with the Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK assassination, Moon landing, and Civil Rights movement. Generation X (~1965-1980) followed them with the Vietnam War, AIDS epidemic, Challenger & Chernobyl disasters, and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.

Then, along came the dreaded Generation Y or “Millennials” (~1981-1995) who were impacted by the rise of personal and widespread technology during the Dot Com Boom.

But we all know the real event that this generation is forever marked by: The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

An entire generation’s worldview was formed based on one, sunny Tuesday in September.

Each generation spans roughly 15 years, but now things are moving faster.

Cultural shifts used to occur every 10-15 years, but today they occur every 1-3 years. Take the COVID-19 pandemic for instance. We are living inside of a cultural shift right now.

The next generation is basing their worldview on how this traumatic event affects society and how society responds to that trauma.

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of that fateful day in 2001.

I was six years old sitting at my 1st-grade desk at George Welch Elementary in Mrs. Ann Senn’s classroom. I remember our principal, Mr. Vance Smith, coming over the intercom asking teachers to turn on their televisions.

Mrs. Senn burst into tears as soon as she saw the picture pop up on the television screen. I knew something was wrong, but I didn't know what.

She immediately turned the television off and wiped the tears from her eyes. All I remember after that is my mom coming to check me out of school and every school event for the rest of the year being American-themed.

We learned a new song, “God Bless the USA” to sing at our graduation that May.

An entire generation’s worldview was formed based on one, sunny Tuesday in September.

More than any of these observations, I noticed that people were different after 9/11.

I’ve always been obsessed with airplanes. From ages 1-6, my parents would take me to the Monroe Regional Airport on Sundays for lunch. I would get my food from the Airport lounge and run to the window at the gate to watch the planes take off and land.

On our first trip to the airport post 9/11, I was stopped by security. I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t allowed in the gate anymore.

I cried as my parents walked me out of the airport trying to explain in the best way they knew how to an innocent 6-year-old just wanting to see airplanes.

But that’s what a day like 9/11 does to a person. To a whole generation, in fact.

It teaches them to be skeptical. It teaches them not to trust. It teaches them the world is a bad place full of bad people. Good places with good people are the exception, not the rule.

More than that, it teaches them to remember. Or, at least not to forget.

But what’s the difference between remembering and not forgetting?

Remembering is an active verb.

When we remember, we do so actively so that we can remain aware of the events that occurred in as accurate a way as possible as to reminisce on or learn from them.

Not forgetting is passive.

It doesn’t require much more of us than to keep the event in the back of our mind, watch a few documentaries one day each year, and pay our social media respects to those who lost their lives that day.

Remembering invites us to recollect and sit in the emotions, the fear, the anger, the desire for revenge, the patriotism, the racism, the chaos, the consequences, the repercussions, and the long-lasting, generational effects of that day.

Not forgetting limits the event to the 24-hour timeframe of that day and nothing more. Until next year when we get to pull out our mental 9/11 file and do the drill all over again.

So, why do we say “Never forget” more than we say “Remember” when talking about 9/11?

Because not forgetting something is much more convenient than remembering it.

It's painful to remember, it's much easier to not forget.

I find it to be no coincidence that we are honoring a landmark anniversary of one cultural shift in the midst of living in another.

I hope this year, and in every year after, you will choose to remember 9/11 instead of simply not forgetting it.

I hope you choose to remember this pandemic instead of simply not forgetting it, too.

It’s hard--nearly impossible--to learn from events you passively choose to not forget; however, there is a great deal to learn from events you actively choose to remember.

Let’s learn from what went wrong leading up to that fateful September day.

Let’s learn from the mistakes we made in our response.

Let’s learn from the way we treated people before and after that event.

Let’s learn from the way we trained our children to view the world based on what we saw and experienced on that day.

Most of all, let’s learn about what it means to reconcile rather than to simply seek revenge.

We’re still fighting this war. We’re still mending this wound. As we've witnessed, revenge only begets more vengeance. Reconciliation, on the other hand, opens the door to healing.

My generation will forever see the world through the lens of 9/11, but here’s the opportunity in front of us:

To use what we’ve learned from remembering 9/11 to understand the effects it had on us and use it to prevent that from happening to this new generation experiencing the pandemic we are currently living through.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to raise my kids to be afraid of personal contact with other human beings.

I don’t want to raise my kids to cut ties with people based on their health decisions.

I don’t want to raise my kids to trade a meeting for a Zoom call, a hug for a fist bump, or a fist bump for a wave.

So, this weekend and beyond, choose to actually remember 9/11.

Let's keep the past twenty years in mind as we all navigate through the cultural shift we’re currently in; not for the benefit of our generation but for the benefit of the next.

Protecting their worldview is worth everything.




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