Every year I have the privilege of trying to avoid what is the hardest day of the year for me- September 11th. For many it is a day to pause and focus on events that shifted the historical narrative of our country, while I am trying to do everything but give those moments concentrated attention. September 11, 2001 is the day when international terrorism filtered into our collective consciousness and opportunistically opted to reside. I don’t know if its commemoration will eventually become overrun with barbecues and commercialization as Veteran’s and Memorial Day have, but after having dismissively glanced at a graphic that stated “Happy Patriot’s Day” I wonder if that level of tone deafness is on the horizon.
As of now, for me, September 11 is a day primarily centered on dodging media coverage, fervently avoiding social media, as much as occupationally possible, and ingesting as few recollections of the circumstances surrounding the day I can NEVER forget. This is a challenge when NPR is apart of the drive to and from work and tracking news is a part of my job. Even if I drove in silence, I knew that I would have the privilege of being inundated with imagery and ceremony that would only pose to awaken my own memories with their emotional ties unearthing what is desired to be buried.
I have found myself trapped in conversations outlining the day to those who weren’t close enough to feel the reverberating weight that washed across the city that never sleeps but was certainly solace. Able to offer the course of my day in relation to the impact in matter of fact fashion without breaking the veneer, which would disintegrate during my time alone and linger in my awareness for days after just recounting the story, was always a feat. I hadn’t mastered how to evade being forthright when being asked about the day or how to not engage the conversation at all.
For the most part yesterday, I was able to keep them[my memories] at bay but I wasn’t one hundred percent successful. “We will never forget” or “never forget” floated across the internet yesterday. My first thought when seeing that verbiage was, I wish I could. I wish I could forget the sounds of the trucks removing rubble from the debris months after the attacks. I wish I could forget the smells of the fire that seemed to burn forever. I wish I could forget the plume of smoke billowing up the gridded streets of New York surrounding coughing people emerging from them. I wish I could forget standing at the corner by Trinity Church on my way to the NYU film office. Instead of a mundane ride on the train, I stood suspended in time watching the first plane hit the World Trade Center. For many of us, “never forget” is an unnecessary call to action. I remember the homeless man standing in the street proclaiming what we had just seen. I remember the man emerging from his red sports car with his mouth agape. I remember holding cameras that I never removed from their bags. We all looked at each other, then towards the tower as black smoke filled the sky and once more back at each other not believing what we had seen.
For some of us, forgetting would offer some emotional relief from what we remember. Some of us would rather not possess these moments that are emblazoned on our minds but we can’t unsee them. Every year we are left seeking a peace that cannot be captured around a day of remembrance that lasts far longer than a day.
Depending on how much media I encounter or conversations I have (this year I had zero), the weight of the memories will last a few days and recede as the national conversation shifts. Soon I will receive a questionnaire asking about my health. A few months from that I will receive a report on the general well-being and resources for those in the World Trade Center Health Registry. Other than that, I will get to forget—that is until next year.
The words aren’t necessary because we won’t forget. We can’t.