Memory is an awfully funny function. Perhaps there is a little rhyme here and some reason there, but a bigger, overarching dictum that turns memory on and off? Unlikely.
And I’m not talking about the deep, layered memories that need a nudging to be recalled — the sort of “oh yeah… I do remember that.”
There’s a different class of recollections — we all have them — where not only is the time and place vivid, but the feelings, emotions, reactions, thoughts, are all present, all alive, as if the moment was seared into our minds by a videographer.
A memory that fits this description will re-enter all of our minds this week upon the 10th anniversary of 9/11. A stalwart memory yet, all the while, a living one.
Which is also why I won’t waste your time by reviewing or reminiscing over my particular memory of that tragic morning. It would be rather redundant. The time and place of our respective memories of 9/11 may differ, but the fears, anxiety, shock and outrage don’t change much from person to person. In this case, they likely don’t change at all.
This national, collective memory of 9/11 manifested itself in the killing of Osama bin Laden. The celebrations on the street, the high-fives and relieved phone calls that took place across the country when the news broke brought the memories of that terrible day right back to the forefront. The man responsible was finally dead; justice, it seemed, had been delivered.
Recently, though, these memories have been used as a different sort of marker — as a generational insignia of sorts. The term “9/11 generation” has been especially invoked by the national press as the 10th anniversary approaches.
Is there logic behind the term? Yes, certainly. 9/11 was a watershed moment for those of us who were growing up in the new millennium.
Yet it seems a bit misleading, or even a tad confining. The term “9/11 generation” implies that we are defined by the events of that tragic day, that somehow our lives are irrevocably altered each and every day by that day.
For some, perhaps that sentiment rings true. For those who lost their lives or those who fought overseas for our country when we needed them most, they, more than anyone, can lay claim to the “9/11 generation.”
Otherwise, 9/11 seems to persist within us as a painful and intact memory. Sure, there are external security ramifications that will persist forever, if only to prevent it from happening again. But it is not a memory that manifests itself every single day; it is not a memory that dictates our personal movements, actions, thoughts or expressions most of the time.
Nor should it be. That sort of effect on our daily lives would be exactly the goal that the masterminds of 9/11 sought. And they failed.
That’s not to say 9/11 isn’t constantly remembered — far from it. It’s the strength of the remembrance that serves as our continuous tie to that day, that triggered the outpouring of emotion upon bin Laden’s death.
It’s a memory that we will undoubtedly pass on to the next generation, as Pearl Harbor was unto ours.
But while 9/11 was a singularly devastating day, it was not a wholly defining day of an entire generation. The so-called “9/11 generation” has years ahead of us to build, change and improve the world that was bequeathed to us. We have decades to construct new national memories that are joyous and that can counter — although never clout — the one that was formed 10 years ago.
So, the name currently tagged to our generation may change in the years to come. But there will always be that anchor that will never be left behind.
Brian Goldman is a College senior from Queens, N.Y. His column, The Gold Standard, will appear every Monday. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Comments powered by Disqus
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