Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What it Means to Never Forget

Today is September 11. Like most people over 15, especially in the United States, I distinctly remember September 11, 2001. I remember the phone call from my mother telling me to turn on the television. I remember watching the first tower fall and then going to class – creative writing. I remember walking out of class hearing that the second tower had fallen and that classes were canceled for the rest of the day.  I remember talking to my brother that night and thinking that my nephew, who would be born exactly three months later, would grow up in a world where 9/11 was but a memory.

I will probably never forget that day.

Prior to September 11, 2001, the most common way I would hear “never forget” was about the Holocaust in Europe. Being raised Jewish, stories about the Holocaust dominated my childhood. But like most people under 70 I have no actual mental memory of the Holocaust. Like my nephew and 9/11, I grew up in a world where Hitler was a memory. But I was told to never forget.

Memory is an interesting thing. I have written before about the fallacies and misconceptions we have in our memories. But as I have also mentioned before, we do not store our memories only in our minds. They exist within our bodies as well. Very often, when I am in a yoga class in an asana, I remember an event. It could be from any time in my life, any place I have lived, but it just pops into my mental awareness. Something about being in a posture sparks that mental memory. I have heard and read that smells are the most likely to spark a memory. The point, of course, is that on some level in our awareness, perhaps not the mental awareness, we truly never forget.

With major world tragedies, the bumper stickers remind us to “never forget.” I believe they mean mentally. But how can we never forget and still move on? Yoga teaches us to be aware of what arises, and then to let it go. We must, on all levels, be able to move forward. If not, we hold the memories, and those memories become tight hip muscles, which becomes low back pain, which becomes . . . That cannot be good for even the memory of those we have lost.

I am not sure I have the answers. As someone who holds onto memories more in my body than in my mind, it is quite an amazing feat that I have as many mental memories of 9/11 as I do. But I am not sure that remembering is the best way to move the energy that such tragedy brings to the world. Pure memory, without more, is stuck energy. It keeps us in a place of grief and sadness, or anger and resentment. We must be aware, but then what?

What if instead, we honored the memory wherever it is stored? What if we honored those who were lost and those who lost a loved one? What if we remembered, but instead of holding on, we let the memory flow with an open heart to all the suffering caused that day?

Perhaps the bumper stickers are right. Perhaps we should always remember. After all, those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it. But being stuck in that memory only brings harm to the present day. It stops the flow of energy, and therefore stops the ability to learn and grow from the tragedy.

Last year, on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I sat at my computer in New Zealand, feeling very much like an outsider. I watched footage of September 11, 2001, trying to recreate that day in my mind, all the sadness and the confusion and the fear. I wanted to connect with family and friends back in America. It was one of only two days I truly felt that way while living in New Zealand.

But as I sit in my living room today, very much in the United States, I am drawn to a different type of memory – honoring. Honoring those who were lost, those who risked their lives, and those who lost loved ones. Instead of holding the memory of the pain, I want to see shared tragedy become a way to learn to flow together. Shared memory, perhaps more than any other type of memory, fascinates me. And when that shared memory is part of a shared tragedy, one felt over the entire world, it has the power to transform.

May the memory of our shared tragedies become our ability to break the stuck energy and come together to honor all involved. That is where the true healing occurs.


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved.

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