Remembering vs. reliving, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11

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Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 6:58pm


In The Ethics of Memory, Avishai Margalit elaborates a profound distinction between remembering an event and reliving it.  I've always been intrigued by the discussion on an intellectual level.  On occasion, like today, I chance to experience it phenomenologically. 

Today's anniversary has been one predominantly of remembering.  I bring forth my flashbulb scenes: a terrorist-piloted missile of innocents gouging into an edifice of steel, or one of stone, each populated by more innocents.

A raging ocean of debris comprised of elements so violently wrenched from their intended configuration and comportment, bearing down and enveloping all in its path.

An F-15 cruising low over my block, my neighborhood the pilot's first glimpse of the wounded Manhattan on his way down from Otis Air Force Base.

An otherwise empty house of study.

Desperate and seeking papers, Scotch-taped and flapping in the wind like so much fall foliage, each an uncertain prelude to grief or relief.

A pallet of latex gloves.

A tractor trailer.

A stench.

A black plume, morose over a broken city.

Ten years of exposure to the iconic images and sounds of 9/11 have turned them into familiar tropes.  They coalesce for us today into sadness, and we are wizened by resignation to an established reality.  We speak of images becoming "burned into memory" such that it's impossible to imagine life as it was before.

Today I also had a flashback of reliving, of feeling the bewilderment, the sheer stupefying horror of witnessing for the first time, when we were naïve rather than wizened, and it was impossible to imagine life as it played out before us.  The events we lived were not part of any reality we knew, and we wrestled with this new antithesis until we synthesized the inescapable dialectic and became new, and different.

I went through a similar process on a personal level more recently and was revisited by the lessons of trauma.  Life goes on.  It can be a mere empirical, biological fact, but it can also be a mission statement heeding the charge of self-determination.

Created: Jul 19, 2012

Tags: memoir, prose, 9/11

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