The past is not dead. It’s not even past.
Has enough time passed to start forgetting 9/11? This is a disturbing question for those family members, coworkers, and friends who lost someone on September 11, 2001 in the terrorist attacks. Still, in a most despicably callous way, it continues to be asked by some people who want to “move on.”
Perhaps their motives are not as cruel as they seem, but they should understand that moving on is just not possible for some. People who disrespectfully tell us to “move on” have little or no concept of the nature of each person’s individual type of mourning, and those whom the victims (of the worst attack on our homeland in United States history) left behind surely deserve something better than this.
This year the ceremony here in New York City has been “scaled back” considerably. New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his administration have seen fit not to hold the Commemoration Ceremony at Ground Zero (the former site of The World Trade Center destroyed in the attacks) but at nearby Zuccotti Park (on Liberty Street between Broadway and Church Street). Yes, the names of the victims will be read as in the past, but it seems extraordinarily cold-hearted to move the ceremony away from the scene of the attacks.
The reason for this situation is all the activity happening at Ground Zero. If someone has never visited the city since the attacks, he or she would be amazed by the sounds and sights to be encountered there now. The pit or hole that once seemed a wasteland after the attacks has been transformed by workers, machinery, and the building materials necessary to create and recreate the space.
While this is commendable and truly in keeping with a desire to show the world that nothing keeps New Yorkers down, it seems more than ridiculous that all this activity cannot be stopped for one day to mark the sanctity of the ground where so many people died.
The question all along has been why Bloomberg and company want to prevent the ceremony from happening at Ground Zero. Does the debate center on the safety of those participating in the ceremony who could be perceived to be in danger from the construction process happening at the site? If that is the case, I can understand Bloomberg’s thinking, but it is difficult to believe that one area on the 16-acre site could not be secured for the purpose of marking this anniversary, especially with the day falling ominously on a Tuesday as it did the day the attacks took place.
The more disturbing question is this: Does the moving of the ceremony represent a desire by politicians, business leaders, and some members of the media to start putting thoughts of 9/11 in the dustbin? I know for a fact that some people are annoyed that the powerful emotions and feelings about 9/11 continue to resonate even six years after the attacks. I have heard (and other people I know have heard it, too) someone say, “Come on, isn’t it time for you to get over it and move on?”
Perhaps, since they have no personal connection to the victims, they believe mourning and remembering are not good for the city, the economy, and tourism. I feel sorry for them for their lack of understanding and respect for those lost. I can only refer those who do not understand the desire to mark the day with remembrances to the quotation from William Faulkner listed above.
I hope they will start to understand that time does not heal all wounds, but apparently it magnifies the worst in some who have selfish motives. You want us to forget 9/11? Well, you will have to wait until all of us who lost someone that day are laid to rest ourselves, for September 11, 2001, is as vividly etched in our minds today as it was the day we experienced its horror.
Of course, some pundits will point to the past and ask what is remembered about other atrocities similar to 9/11. For example, the cry “Remember the Maine!” once rocked our nation from isolationist slumber into war with Spain. The Maine was a Navy ship docked in Havana harbor that was sunk by a bomb (reminiscent in some ways of the U.S.S. Cole many years later). 262 sailors died that 15th day of February in 1898, and for many years “Remember the Maine” was a phrase used to commemorate their loss. These days very few people even remember the incident, and all those family members of the victims are now long gone themselves.
Perhaps the most obvious comparison to 9/11 is the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Many movies have been made about what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called “a day of infamy,” and anyone who has ever visited Hawaii probably has stopped at the lovely memorial that glistens in the sunshine over the remains of the U.S.S. Arizona. The memorial is a tangible attempt to galvanize memory and remind those born after the attacks about those lost. Sadly, there are fewer and fewer people remaining each day who can actually recall where they were the day the Japanese attacked our ships on a tranquil Sunday morning in December 1941.
Another example of the importance of remembrance is the Holocaust that devastated Europe under the Nazis. Museums have been built, the former concentration camps have been turned into powerful exhibits of an evil so horrific it defies understanding, and many books and movies have been made to chronicle this tragic aspect of the Nazis’ time in power. Still, many of those people who were eyewitnesses are gone, and the often-heard line “Never forget” is spoken and heard less as the years pass.
It is essential that the citizens of this and all nations be reminded of such monumental incidents in human history. Yes, a memorial will one day be in place at Ground Zero, and that realization of suffering and loss in concrete and steel will remain long after those who lost friends and loved ones are gone. This is somewhat comforting to know, but it does not negate the suffering and duress still felt by those who lost loved ones.
Those people want and need a place to go to mark the anniversary, to stand in the space where their loved ones took their last breaths, to mingle with one another and remind the world that what happened on 9/11 is not forgotten (and should never be forgotten). This is not the dead past; this is a living and unrelenting horror that affected (and continues to affect) the lives of those left behind.
Friends and family of the victims try to move forward each day, but the calendar always manages to come around to that month and day again. What was a seemingly regular Tuesday in September changed their lives, their country, and their world forever. It is not time to forget nor will it ever be time to forget. Remembering 9/11 in the most respectful, meaningful, and public ceremony every year is the single best way we can show the world that we will not only remember, but we will also do everything in our power to make certain nothing like 9/11 ever happens again anywhere in the United States.
We might not be able to have the ceremony at Ground Zero this year, but one day in the near future the Freedom Tower will soar into the sky, and the 9/11 Memorial will mark the footprints of the World Trade Center towers. When that day comes it will be essential that the Commemoration Ceremony takes place there every year forevermore. In this way the past will not be dead or even past, but alive in the memory of Americans and citizens of the world until the end of time.