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Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Where have all the ribbons gone?

Thirteen years is long enough for memory to stale.

But it can’t erase video footage. 

For twelve years, I have remembered 9/11 by reliving it. I planted dozens of flags with the College Republicans on campus until my thumbs blistered, I viewed dramatizations with my family, I held the steel beam of the World Trade Center inside the 9/11 memorial pointing to NORAD at UCCS, I wrote poetry to encapsulate that skipped heartbeat at the first reports.

Everyone grieves differently. National grieving and memorials are complicated. But where is the dividing line between remembrance of lives lost and repeated infliction of a past horror? When do we let go of pain?

“Never Forget: 9/11/2001” is a well-meant slogan, but is also quite nebulous. How are we to never forget? And what are healthy ways to grieve and remember?

Technology now enables humans to re-experience a traumatic event in precisely the same way that they first lived it. Most Americans experienced 9/11 via televised broadcasts on a major news network. So replaying the footage each year allows us to relive the trauma – literally. 

This year, I avoided the newscasts, remembering in my heart alone. But at dinner in the campus pub with my best friend, one glance at the television screen regurgitated all my preteen shock at the first plane hitting the tower. I wasn’t sure if I was about to sob or vomit. 

Where have all the flowers gone? I think they took our old quieter traditions of remembrance with them. Yellow ribbons, photographs, gold stars on WW2 deployment flags, toy cars left at children’s tombstones. Empathy for others' pain is essential, and while modern society may seem calloused, less obvious ways of commemorating loss should not be discounted. True memorials are built in the heart. As J.K Rowling is so often quoted, “the ones that love us never really leave us.”

If I die in a terrorist attack, or natural disaster, or even in a car accident tomorrow, I don’t want to be remembered for how I died. I want my life to be remembered – the beautiful and crazy quarter century I had. If my last moments are painful, I don’t want my loved ones to obsess over them. I want them to “remember when we'd / stay up late and we'd talk all night / in a dark room lit by the TV light” (Skillet). All those little breaths strung together that constitute being alive.

We do the 2,977 people who died on 9/11 a disservice when we generalize them as “the fallen” or “the victims.” Each one had lives and families diverse enough to make a synesthete’s head swim in color and sound.  

Perhaps Christians often view remembering Jesus with communion almost the same way. We think about the torture in the last 12 hours of a 33 year life, as Cynthia Jeub recently wrote. I only realized this similarity recently when listening to a song in an Easter play from my childhood. During the last supper scene, Jesus sings:

“The time is near that I must leave you.
It hurts me so that we must part.
But just as we have remembered,
Remember our moments together.

In all you do,
In all you say,
Remember me,
Remember me.

Remember how amazed you were
the day I turned the water into wine?
You had not known me very long,
yet you believed I was sent from God.
Those were such good times,
Those were such good times.
Remember, remember.

Remember how we laughed so long
the day that 10 lepers were healed?
They were so happy to behold.
But only one had returned to thank you
Those were such good times,
Those were such good times.
Remember, remember.”

Although wine and bread representing body and blood are mentioned in some of the closing verses, the song emphasizes the life, not the death. If I actually love Jesus, wouldn't I want all of his life? Not just the end? And if I want to honor the 2,997, wouldn’t I listen to how their family members and friends remember them?

Next year, I think I’ll read some biographical sketches of people who died on 9/11, google some photographs. And skip the video replays.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Lighthouse Girl

There was once was a little girl, raised in the Village.

The Village was a utopia, walled off for protection and insulated from the world. Even the families in the girl’s section of the Village did not see each other very often, but lived peaceably, like hermits, in accordance with the Code.

When the girl grew to be a maiden, sometimes she crept through cracks in the wall and explored the countryside. 

She gradually even made friends with the woodland folk, discovering new ballads and gypsy dances banned in the Village.

One day, the elders of the Village told the girl that absolute obedience was the only way to honor her parents and the Code. But the girl had dreams, and this meant soul death.

So one night the girl left the Village forever.

Her friends on the outside helped her travel to the coast, where she built a lighthouse with bricks and mortar and timber they brought. That section of the coast was so rugged that the deaths on its rocks were legend. Other attempts to build lighthouses had not survived.

The girl maintained it for years, weathering many storms. Her friends visited often to encourage her and the prosperity of the lighthouse, but sometimes she was lonely. Her friends started to call her Lighthouse, shortened to Light.

One friend was a girl-pirate who was once raised in the Village like her, but they had met beyond the walls.

Another village girl had become a spy for a local Baron. She took shelter in the lighthouse and lived with Light for many moons.

All three of them knew an older girl who escaped a failed utopia several years before. This girl had been cursed by her own Elders and turned into a mermaid, forever chained to the waves and spume. She shared the birthname of the girl-pirate.

The friends often wondered about their kinsmen in the Village, and hoped someday many more could be free from the well-meaning tyranny of the Elders. The four swore a solemn pact against injustice in the land.

A cyclone rolled across the waters one night, spewing hailstones like vomit. The lighthouse girl manned the tower, keeping the light alive. In her telescope, she spied the signal of a small boat foundering on the waves. Two passengers, one with gold hair and one with the hair of a raven, rowed and bailed water to no avail.

Despite the peril, the three friends, followed by the mermaid, took a larger ship. They rode out toward the lost girls, just before their rowboat crashed against the rocks.

Light, the girl-pirate, the spy, and the mermaid embraced the lost girls on the beach and welcomed them to safety. Light helped them to warm inside by the fire and dry their clothes. The lost girls told the friends that they fled another section of the Village, inspired by their love for one another, because their Elders had banned their friendship.

The four friends all knew the value of friendship, and told the lost girls to stay together, no matter what the Elders said, and to explore their newfound freedom.

Soon the spy-girl left on a clandestine mission for the Baron, and couldn’t send letters to the lighthouse girl.

The girl-pirate took the lost girls rafting, teaching them how to navigate currents and giving them sea legs.

Light helped the lost girls find a trade in town with a basket-weaver, but their spirits were wild and young, and they joined a band of traveling gypsies, squandering their earnings on trinkets.

Midsummer gales brewed out in the gulf, and the lighthouse was empty again except for Light. She was lonely once more, yearning for her old friends and for new refugees from the Village. She often visited the mermaid down in the tidal pool on calm, starlit evenings to plan new adventures.

One day, the girl-pirate came to the lighthouse girl and said she couldn’t stay on land anymore. She was bound for faraway oceans and adventures far from the Village.

Light hugged the pirate and cried. They walked down to the docks together.

Light told the girl-pirate how much she had learned from her. She knew how to tie sailor’s knots. She could brew herbal mushroom tea from the Orient. She could debate the Elders now if they confronted her and told her to tear down the lighthouse.

Deep in her heart, Light knew how much the pirate yearned for the sea, how the land was ebbing away at her friend’s spirit.

The lighthouse girl said the girl-pirate needed to sail. It was time. And she understood.