Against Forgetting

The day is winding down, the students are behind me, and I’m able to run my mouth a bit about this being the seventh anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and wherever Flight 93 was going.

It was a grueling day. I could not bear to deal with 9/11, especially in three classes in a row, but it brought its elephantine self into each room and it had to be faced.


One of my older students is 21. She has a cousin and two male friends in Iraq. She talks about it matter-of-factly but her face becomes drawn and sad when she doesn’t know you’re looking. Other students, slightly younger, recall being in the sixth and seventh grade and some of their fellows being pulled out of class. Did a parent leave a lower Manhattan work number? Was someone dead or missing? I don’t know. Too many questions–more than one–feel like prying.


These kids have a whole different perspective on 9/11 than adults. Seven years for them is a huge leap. For me, it is the difference between 57 and 64. They seem to have few political opinions. Well, that is fair. I, for one, am not there to leap on a desk and hold forth on the unfairness of the whole thing, of sending babies to kill babies, of the insanity of jubilation in the week after 9/11 that we were going to go to war (“To war, to war, Freedonia’s going to war!”).


9/11 is not downplayed. God knows it is twisted each year into a politicized drama of recaptured memory and the unendingly open wound. It is the perpetual demonization of The Other: the Muslim, the dissenter, the believer in anything that goes contrary to the civil religion of Revenge, this country’s true God. This perpetual yahrzeit is remembered not by praising the Creator of all life but by an endless thanatology, a celebration not of life but of death. Oh, the noises say one thing…politicians are made by God to make noises…but the reality is that death is the celebration. I feel at times we are worshiping a Goddess of Blood, not of regeneration.


No lesson is being taught here, simply the lex talionis of payback.


When I faced my classes I felt like a death camp survivor trying to explain to a kid why I have a tattoo on my arm….

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