Friday, September 11, 2015

What do you remember?

There are a lot of things I don’t remember about that day. I don’t remember exactly what we heard on the radio as my dad drove us to seminary before school. I don’t remember if Megan Miller really came into the room crying or if that’s just how I picture it now. I don’t remember the words of the prayer we said as a family kneeling in front of the television between seminary and school, and I don’t remember how my mom explained it all to Ali, who was only six, or to Tom who wasn’t even two.

I do remember the images on the tv screen—first at home, then in Ms. Stanley’s second period psych class, and then in Mrs. Wohlgemuth’s AP US History class later in the day. But I don’t remember which period I had Mrs. Wohlgemuth’s class or what she said to reassure us or help us understand. I don’t remember if Kirsten Bezzant gave me an extra-long hug at lunch, but I think she probably did.

I do remember coming home after school and lying on the trampoline, looking up through the branches of the redwood trees into the totally empty sky. No jet trails. No engines overhead. And I remember my dad telling us that this was probably the only time we’d ever not see planes flying, like we’d stepped back in time or were in a different world where human flight had never existed.

I don’t remember if I was afraid or angry. I know I was sad for the people and families who were most affected. And I remember feeling relieved it hadn’t happened closer to me and at the same time feeling ashamed of my relief. I remember thinking there was nothing I could do because everything was happening on the other side of the country and I was only an ordinary junior in an ordinary California high school.

I remember the community coming together as we all mourned. I remember realizing for the first time how big America was and how many people would never be the same. I remember the varied reactions and the talk of how we should or should not retaliate.

And I remember thinking I would never forget.

Of course in the years since then, I have forgotten often. There are moments of remembering, days like this when we ask each other to share our stories. And little changes that make us recall how it was before. But that sense of collective memory and community identity is mostly lost now, I think.

I don’t mean to sound pessimistic. I think it’s okay to forget. Life has to go on and we can’t let that day bring us down forever.

But I also think it’s important to remember in how we live every day. I think we can remember by having a little more patience in line at the airport or wherever. I think we can remember when we choose to forgive others. I think we can remember each time we do some little thing that makes the world a better, more beautiful place. We know that evil will always exist, but I have faith that we can rise above it. When we add just a little to the collective altruism of the universe, we immediately join the forces that fight the darkness.

So remember today when you give blood or when you offer to help a stranger or when you use your talents to create something inspiring. We all have some goodness to share: a smile, an extra hand, a little time. It doesn’t matter how small your offering is or how flawed your execution.

All that matters is that you remember with the choices you make, not just today, but every day.

To paraphrase one of my favorite hymns,

Have I done any good in the world today?Have I helped anyone in need?Have I cheered up the sad, or made someone feel glad?Has anyone’s burden been lighter today because I was willing to share?Have the sick and the weary been helped on their way?When they needed my help was I there?
There are chances for work all around just now, opportunities right in our way.Do not let them pass by, saying, ‘Sometime I’ll try,’But go and do something today.’Tis noble of man to work and to give;Love’s labor has merit alone.Only he who does something helps others to live.To God each good work will be known.
Doing good is a pleasure, a joy beyond measure,A blessing of duty and love.

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