A story about active remembrance.
I worry about slogans. When we reduce big lessons to bite-size phrases, they become easy to swallow without chewing first. We consume the words quickly, like candy — because they’re prettily packaged, sweet and addictive, easy and alluring. Because everybody else seems to be saying them. We forget to digest. We forget to read between the lines. We forget that the intricacies of our language have profound power to shape our interpretations, even when the shifts are subtle or subconscious. … Today, on the anniversary of 2001’s terrorist attacks, the internet keeps urging me to “never forget.” Never forget. Never forget. Never forget. As I left my apartment this morning, I carried that phrase in my back pocket. I held “never forget” in my hands by the Brooklyn waterfront, looking out at One World Trade, where it stood tall and stern and solitary amidst the scattered skyline. I swished “never forget” around in my mouth with my coffee, rolling it between tongue and teeth, tasting the subdued bitterness of it. I wrote out “never forget” with a pencil on lined paper, trying to see what that felt like, and trying to recall the pencil and paper I was holding in my fifth grade classroom when the attacks happened. I remember where I was sitting, the angle of my head turned right towards the door, seeing a teacher crumpled against its frame, crying. I remember the crackle of the loudspeakers. I remember the stomach-twisting fear that my parents might somehow have been hurt. I remember struggling to grasp the immensity of what had happened and what it meant that I was powerless to change it. “Never forget” seems incomplete to me — the simplicity of it. The passivity. The negativity of “never.” The suggestion that inaction has the same impact as action, like sidestepping what’s wrong is equivalent to doing what’s right. I don’t think that what we need today is a prohibition or a warning — a forbiddance from forgetting. What we need is an encouragement — a reminder to remember. A push to actively engage with the pain and the fear and the injustice, and to somehow wield those difficult forces into fuel for good. … I’m not quite sure how to translate the emotions swirling around me today. I’m searching for the proper words for them — the precise ones. The relief that I was not more directly…
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