Remembering 9/11 carries the weight of complicated truths

Saturday we joined a chorus of voices remembering the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

We heard the accounts of the responders, bystanders, victims. We saw the photos, the videos that broadcast in real time that fateful morning. We remember together, and bow our collective heads to history. We will remember.

Remembering 9/11 is a civic duty. We cannot turn away, losing ourselves in the distraction of daily life. We must pull Sept. 11th close, wrapping our arms around it and wresting it into our present day.

But what and how will we remember? How do we share the story with those who weren’t there? By echoing the accounts of lives lost, the 2,763 World Trade Center deaths, including the firefighters, paramedics and police officers who ran in to help; the 189 people killed at the Pentagon; the 44 people on Flight 93? In the silent skies that followed, or the patriotic waves of lapel pins and volunteerism, the outpouring of international support? The subsequent decades of Middle East military action and its consequent casualties? The changes in privacy, freedoms and the birth of Homeland Security and Guantanamo? How we care for the tens of thousands of people diagnosed with 9/11-related cancer? By dissecting the traumatic undercurrents still running through the United States’ psyche?

To remember is our duty, but it is hard and complicated to do in its entirety. Time acts as a natural filter, and we individuals select pieces of memory to hang onto, borrowing from others, sewing and ripping and reshaping the event into a personal history. Our natural inclination to re-configure is constant, and this is where we must — in our duty as willing participants in the American democratic experiment — continue to seek truth, and protect it from the constant barrage of misinformation, whitewashing and the natural deterioration of time.

It has been 20 years since the planes slammed into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. Twenty years later, we scramble in Afghanistan. We look hard at the cost and returns of the War on Terrorism.

We factor in climate change, health, and shifts in population, immigration and politics. Documents related to the attack are still being declassified, with many important questions still unanswered.

Remembering is a task we take on as a citizenry, like voting. And, like voting, we must be informed, else past events soften to clay, easily shaped by manipulative hands. Remembering Sept. 11, 2001 connects us to our country, and while carrying a factual past is a complicated burden, we can shoulder it when we pull together and lift.

Just as we did on Sept. 11, 2001.


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