The Public and Private Remembrances of 9/11

As the 10thanniversary of 9/11 hovers around us all this week, it’s difficult for those of us who didn’t suffer the direct hit – whether in human loss or up-close trauma – to think about how we can pay tribute to those who died, to those who saved, and to those who were left behind to endure their grief.


Never before had our country been so publically bombarded with every moment of that horrific tragedy, shown over and over on televisions that day and on every anniversary since. Never before has the grieving, and sometimes healing, process been so publically dissected, discussed and photographed as for those who lost parents, children, spouses, siblings.


And those of us who didn’t lose a friend, relative or co-worker still lost so much else. Something definitely died that day, a national, if not global death – of freedom, innocence, a sense of safety on our own soil and of being on secure ground.


So how do we all think about what that means to each of us individually? How have we continuedto think and feel about it? Not just about where we were when it happened, but what has happened inside each of us since then? Do we have a different approach to life? To death? To our philosophy of living?


These are all questions I have recently posed to many friends and colleagues. Interestingly, not many of them can articulate their answers easily, though they are down there deep inside someplace. I know for myself, the sheer numbers of deaths, of grieving survivors and ongoing losses has made me more matter-of-fact in some way about my own life span and the deaths of others. Watching those multitudes of survivors carry on with such strength and grace has had made a lasting impression: A kind of “if they can do it, I guess I could too?” If I had to. God forbid.


Well, of course. When faced with loss, we all DO manage to survive and carry on. Some better than others. But it isdoable.


So as the day approaches, my guess is that many folks are wondering what they will or can do on Sunday to mark the grim occasion. Because 9/11 falls on a Sunday this year, churches will have a ready-made theme and sermons will no doubt plumb every aspect of life and death, terror and peace, love and hate.


There are innumerable grass roots efforts, too, as people have just taken it upon themselves to wage or stage events to mark this anniversary. Just merely Google-ing “events to commemorate 9/11 10thanniversary” brings up over three million pages.

The family of Ryan Means – a special forces soldier who enlisted when his best friend was killed in the 9/11 attacks and later died himself not by enemy hands but of cancer – is sponsoring a Freedom Run, a 5K to “salute our veterans and soldiers, honor the lives of those lost on Sept. 11 and celebrate the freedom we enjoy as Americans.”


Also close to home for me, more than 200 Georgia firefighters launched a memorial stair climb to total 110 stories, the number of floors that fell when the twin towers collapsed on 9/11. Other Georgians – calling themselves The Freedom Riders – set out on an Atlanta-to-New York bike rideto mark the anniversary of the terrorist attacks.


There are colleges, elementary schools, municipalities, books clubs, restaurants, radio stations, historical societies, libraries and countless other established or loosely-knit groups coming together to find – or honor – meaning in this day. There are partisan and media panels dissecting the politics of the event in high-minded dialogue; meanwhile People magazine poignantly tugs at our heart strings with “The Children of 9/11: Portraits of Hope”(Sept. 12, 2011 issue).


The New York Times Friday, Aug. 26 edition included a thorough, comprehensive section, 9/11 in the Arts: An Anniversary Guide,which highlighted commemorative events in Art, Books, Music – classical, pop and jazz – Dance, Movies, Radio, Television, Theater and other tributes. And no matter if you don’t live in New York to access any of this – though books, music and movies are accessible hither and yon. The mere reading of it is a stunning journey in how this day is being remembered by our most creative commemorators.


There is a flip side to all these staged remembrances and events. Beyond all the activities and public displays are varying opinions and beliefs that run deep. The anniversary also elicits strong views – many of which will be aired on op-ed pages and panels on TV. One long-time, thoughtful and compassionate friend summed up her intense take as follows:  


9/11 was horrific, but what has happened in the U.S. since that day is equally upsetting. How many people have been killed and injured as we take our revenge? What have we learned from unspeakable evil? No doubt at the memorial we will wave the flag, mourn those who died, respond to the emotional speeches, honor the monuments we are building to ourselves, and reflect on the financial payouts to survivors and victims’ families (why is everything OK if money exchanges hands?) but the damage has been done and we did it.


Even if you are trying to escape the events, it will be hard to ignore the significance of this coming Sunday. Ultimately, as public as the tragedy was and will be as it’s replayed this week, most of us will be very private in our remembering. But the point is just that: Remember. Never forget.



Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.




Top Image: 9/11 Tribute in Light, KimCarpenterNJ, Flickr Creative Commons

Second Image: 9/11 Memorial in New York City, Tom Hannigan, Flickr Creative Commons

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