I grabbed the paper before jumping on the bus this morning and on the front page was an article about how the only thing the school has planned for today is reflection. That is, after last year’s magnanimous tenth-year anniversary commemorations, they had nothing left to do. They shuffled some excuses about planning timelines and the student body president said he wished there were more than just nothing. Wished the school could do more than encourage students to “be reflective” about the day.
As if “being reflective” is insignificant.
Yes, commemorations are important. We commemorate the Holocaust every year. But they aren’t everything–and when it comes down to it, I believe reflection is better any day.
Imagine this: You wake up in the morning and you stumble out of bed and walk, mostly lopsided, toward the bathroom. You flip on the light and cringe for a moment as the small fluorescent bulbs shine too brightly and you’re blinded for a moment. Leaning against the counter, you blink a couple times as your vision clears, and staring straight ahead, you see–
Imagine what you see. Imagine how your eyes are still puffy from a night that came too quickly and left even sooner. Imagine that red spot on your nose that wasn’t there yesterday. Or the stubble poking up where it shouldn’t be. Or that wrinkle across your brow as you scowl at your appearance.
To anyone else, nothing is different. To anyone else, you’re still you. Scruffy, unkempt, and left to your own devices, but you’re still you.
They cannot see the things you see. They cannot see the discrepancies lingering from yesterday; they cannot see the plan of action you’re formulating to conquer that calamitous purple pimple. All these things, in their eyes, are meaningless, nothingness, absent. For you, they only define who you have become and the direction you’re going in. But for them? It’s nothing.
Commemorations are moments when we remember. We look back and then we look at today. “My, we’ve come so far,” we might say. “My, look at that new museum! Or that garden there! Or listen as these great and wise leaders, these men and women touched by the event, tell us what they remember and how they have changed. Isn’t it such a beautiful day, that we can remember such tragic times with all these new lessons learned?” And that’s what we say.
But what does any of that mean? Maybe they’ll squeeze a few tears from our eyes or leave us in desperate need of a Kleenex. But what does that do for us? What does it mean when in order to remember, we need someone else to talk about it? What does that say if all we can do to remember is rely on someone else to commemorate what happened?
What does it say about you? About me?
I don’t rely on others to keep 9/11 alive for me. It’s alive all on its own. Last year I wrote a lengthy reflection on the day, and today I’m telling you reflection is more important than commemoration. In ten years, twenty, thirty, when people our age have no living memories of the day–then we shall resort to commemorations to gather those personally affected and listen as we live vicariously through their memories. Until then, we must embrace our own.
Look in that mirror and tell me what you see–look back eleven years and tell me what you were doing. Who you were with. How you felt. The days afterwards. The hours, minutes, seconds in which life stopped. Tell me how you survived the turmoil, the chaos, the anguish of a country attacked. Tell me how you’ve changed in these 4018 days–what discrepancies persist from yesterday? What’s your plan of action for tomorrow, even for this afternoon?
Life will fall away if we don’t hold onto it–and this? This is something we should all fight to hold onto. Don’t let others dictate your history; choose to embrace your experience. Someday, when those we listen to now at commemorations are good and gone, someday we’ll be the ones speaking about our experiences on 9/11–because we’ll be the only ones who still remember. Don’t forsake your place in this life, in this generation, in this country by relying on others to shape who you are. Instead reflect on what has happened and where it has brought you so that, when the time comes and no one else remembers, you do remember, and you can share that memory with others.
No one likes to think about death when we remember life, but we need to remember that life always ends in death if we truly want to remember those lives who are no longer here.
Reflect today, and tomorrow, and every day of your life because–and I say this to each of you–because you are the only one who can.