Growing up in Texas, I was taught the battle cry “Remember the Alamo” early. Texans take their state’s history very personally. In learning the story of the historical slaughter, I accepted my own tiny corner of the state’s painful memory. The package also contained a piece of the indignant rage, shameful pride, and even a desire to make good on the promises of the past to ensure that those lives were not lost in vain.
Today, my Facebook news feed is flooded with a more modern battle cry of sorts, “I remember.”
I wish I didn’t.
Of course I remember. How could any of us forget the day we heard the news? How could anyone forget the waves of confusion and disbelief? How will any of us ever forget the panic that sent us to the pumps, preparing to flee if necessary?
I’d rather not carry the memory of the missing faces papering the tall city we all knew. I’d love to forget the days of mourning, silent moments broken only by tolling bells. Families broken forever. Bodies. Wreckage. Tears.
Televisions on round the clock coverage. Flood lamps illuminating Ground Zero like day. Workers covered in soot and ash. Empty fire houses. Another building falls and the work begins all over again.
I remember sitting in a wooden pew on a Sunday in September, searching for peace and comfort in the words of a pastor. I knew we all were searching together. We wept together, sharing fear and sadness.
A year later, before the memory grew stale and quiet, I found myself standing beside a truck with my husband and his brothers in uniform. Above us, red, white and blue waved in the ocean air, atop an extended ladder. The dancers gave me a rose, a hug and a kiss on the cheek, despite my protests.
The next year, I sat with those men in a dark room. For days, they watched marathons of documentaries. They had read the reports. They knew the story like the back of their hands, and they relived it with faith and dedication.
With each year that passes, the memory retreats a little. But all we have to do is call its name and it appears again, filling our mind and heart with months we would rather never to have lived.
Last year, I taught this story to children who did not remember. In doing so, I passed them their own little piece of our pain. Those children, the ones that do not remember, will inherit this shared memory just as we inherited the memory of the Alamo, Pearl Harbor, or The War Between the States. They will carry this story in their hearts without ever completely knowing it.
Sadly, though, their day will come. One day, they will live through their own September 11th. Their own Alamo. Only on that day will they begin to understand.
Then they will learn what it means to remember, no matter how much you wish you could forget.