Sunday, September 11, 2011

What It Means To Remember

In 1990, Lois Lowry wrote "Number the Stars," a historical fiction novel about two girls living in 1930s Denmark on the brink of the Holocaust. In this story, one girl comes from a Jewish family and the other girl and her family is helping them escape the Nazis. Though this is a fiction, it is very much steeped in history in a way that children as young as 8 or 9 can understand the horrible things that happened to Jewish people during that time.

"Number the Stars" won the Newbery Award that year. During one of Lowry's speaking engagements, she says that a woman came up to her and asked why people wrote about the Holocaust and World War II. It was so long ago, why do we need to revisit these horrible events in history? What does it have to do with us?

Partially as a response to this woman's comments, Lois Lowry wrote "The Giver." This book is about a society that chooses to forget. They forget about war and fear and pain. They have everything decided for them and they are spared any hard or difficult thing. But at the same time, they also give up the joys and delights of life. There is no color or weather or differences or choices in this world - nothing to give variety to existence.

I bring this up because it has been ten years since September 11, 2001. Some people may think that it's time to move on. Sure, recognize this day and that it happened, but don't really make a big deal out of it. Because it's easier to forget such a horrible thing happened.

Yeah, in some ways it would be easier to forget. Just treat this day like any other day to sit in front of the TV and enjoy the opening weekend of the football season. Eat chips and drink soda and yell at the players and referees who screw up three or four states away because in the long run, it doesn't mean anything.

But some of us just don't want to forget.

To their credit (and who would expect any less?), the NFL is doing a lot of memorials and there are some good ads from companies to commemorate this day. I'm sure there will come a point where these are unnecessary and it won't be as big of a deal to remember and rehash that horrible day.

But I am glad that it hasn't happened yet.

I still remember vividly where I was when I learned of the attacks. I was in high school and heading to my biology class. I got a late start that morning, so I didn't get a chance to see the news or listen to the radio, so I had no idea that anything was wrong. We were supposed to have a test in biology that day, but our teacher had the news coverage on when we walked in and there was no way any of us could concentrate on something as silly as a biology test.

Now it's ten years later. In that time, I've been to four years of college, 18 months on an LDS mission and one semester away from my master's degree. I have a little niece and a handful of cousins that have been born since September 2001. I wonder if they will ever understand the significance of 9/11 - how scary that was, even for those of us who were on the other side of the country that day. I've never been to New York, but it's still an emotional thing for me to think about. Because terrorist attacks are things that happen in other places far away from me. They happen in countries that aren't as safe as mine. I don't have to worry about evil people who hate me and want to kill me because of my religion or my race or where I was born or where my parents were born. But to see something like that happen in the United States - a place where I have felt safe and secure my entire life - it rattled me. And I don't like being rattled.

I don't know anyone personally who lost someone in these attacks, but I understand and I feel the loss just as much as if it was one of my parents or my siblings or my friends. I am supremely grateful to the firefighters, police officers, military and just plain ordinary people who stepped up that day and in the days since to keep this country and its citizens safe and free.

When I see my little niece giggle or when I get to play with my little cousins, I often think about the world they get to grow up in. It's getting increasingly dangerous, but it's also getting increasingly safe and people are becoming better. Here's what I mean by that: in the Doctor Who story "Genesis of the Daleks," there is a memorable scene where the Doctor has a chance to prevent the creation of his greatest enemies, the Daleks. The Daleks are the supreme evil in the universe and the Doctor has been sent back in time to destroy them before they can become the destructive force that so many people fear. The Doctor has this moment which has become known as the famous "Have I the Right?" moment. He wonders if he has the right to completely destroy the Daleks - even knowing the horrible things they will do. One line that I think gets overlooked is the one where the Doctor says that people will ally themselves against the Daleks and good people will do great things because they choose to fight the Daleks. This scene is not entirely about averting genocide as it is about the contrast of good and evil - the more evil there is in the world, the more good stands out against it.

That, I think, is the greatest lesson to learn from 9/11 - Evil exists in the world, but good will stand against it and that is what's worth celebrating.

It's certainly worth remembering.

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