Selective Memory

I have maybe one hundred memories from the first eight years of my life—since I’ve never bothered to sit down and count them out, I’m not sure.  I don’t remember my first day of school or my favorite TV show or that time my family went to the beach together.  I don’t know why I don’t remember much of those years.  My mother always told me I have a selective memory, although the older I get the more I realize that that’s just a human thing.  It’s like a filing cabinet:  all the files exist, but some of them have to go toward the back.

But what my mother meant, I think, was that I chose to forget a bunch of stuff for whatever reason.  Perhaps; since I don’t remember what I’ve forgotten, I can’t answer to whether I purposely forgot it.  But today I have not forgotten.  I have, instead, watched others selectively remember what today has been.

I will not assume that you are in America, Reader, or that you keep up with American history and politics.  Heaven knows we Americans assume far too often that everyone sees the world from our point of view.  Today is the anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York City, as well as the attack on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the aborted attack that resulted in a plane crash in Pennsylvania.  It has been fourteen years now, fourteen years and many lifetimes and a pair of wars and so, so much death.  It has also been a reconfiguration of memory.

I’ve talked about the odd pull of this day for me before here, but today I find myself much more aware of how we deal with the day as a nation.  It is rather less recognized than our Labor Day, a full-on holiday this past Monday of grilled hot dogs and flag-waving parades.  Perhaps it is too raw yet, or perhaps we cannot agree on how precisely to remember the fallen when we can’t quite agree on who the fallen are.

This quote has been making its way around the various social media platforms today, and I quite appreciate it.  I make no pretense of having checked the numbers at all, Reader, so please don’t hold me to that.  I share it with you here not for its factual accuracy but for its inclusive commentary:  

The thing about this statement is that it remembers those killed in mindless violence today, but it also remembers those killed in mindful violence in the subsequent “engagements.”  We as a nation, as a world cannot have the selective memory that erases the incredible death toll of anger and pain unleashed on a global scale.  War costs lives.  It is that simple.

And it is so complicated, Reader.  The Internet is a haven for the ugliest sides of humanity, but even in face-to-face life I have seen and heard the most infuriating things leading up to today.  People are still angry, are still in pain from those attacks 14 years ago, from whatever other slights they have felt (real or imagined) before or after that day of billowing smoke.  That anger and pain spikes out of them, gouging the people around them who are Different, who are Other, who are Frightening.  In the effort to remember those who died at the hands of an unseen enemy, some willingly forget or curse these less-thans, these no-longer-people made into boogeymen to be pilloried like so many Guy Fawkes effigies.  Brown becomes suspicious, Islam becomes dangerous, geography becomes damning.

It is such a blessing to work in a department of many cultures, to be every day reminded that my experience is not the only one and my understanding not always the best.  I work with a woman from Saudi Arabia, as well as one woman and two men from Egypt.  Last year I worked with a guy from Morocco and another from Iraq.  You know what I get out of those interactions?  When I am frustrated with any of my coworkers, it is because they are being obtuse or they are not communicating well or we have crossed purposes.  There is nothing, nothing about any of them that is inherently more difficult, more frightening, more evil than any other human of whatever shade, origin, or language whom I have ever encountered.  Why?  Because people are always people.

Today, today when we stand in silence in front of a half-raised flag snapping in the wind that couldn’t blow out a fire burning fiercely through steel beams and human flesh fourteen years ago, I refuse to accept the anger of those who look to the Other and do not see the humanity there.  Be angry at those who harm others, but do not then become them.  The lives of the dead matter, no matter where they were when they died or what religion they held when they lived.

I do not subscribe to the belief that all paths lead to the same God and that all religions are interchangeable, and I’m happy to have that conversation with you if you like.  I do, however, fully and completely subscribe to the belief that no matter what religion a person practices (save any that actively harm others, like old-school paganism with human sacrifices), s/he is still God’s creation.  I don’t get to run past that or over that.  God does not call me to ignore His people; He calls me to weep when they are killed, whether by plane, drone, or bullet.

So I shall.


I will surely demand your blood for a human life,
        from every living thing I will demand it.
From humans, from a man for his brother,
        I will demand something for a human life.
 Whoever sheds human blood,
        by a human his blood will be shed;
for in the divine image
        God made human beings.  (Genesis 9:5-6, CEB)

4 thoughts on “Selective Memory

  1. Prior to the fall of 2001, I used to pay attention to media coverage of terrorist attacks in England and France (for example), and I used to wonder, Will we take it all so much in stride when it reaches our shores? And my guess was, No. If a major terrorist attack was ever successful on US soil, I predicted, we would seek vengeance on a large scale. When it happened in other countries, we shrugged and said, “Too bad.” But I was quite sure that any attack on “us” (spelled US) would be interpreted by “us” as a turning point in history. I was right, of course. I wish I had been wrong.


    • I remember quite clearly when President Bush came on TV to announce that we were going to fight in the Middle East after the 9/11 attacks; I don’t know why I remember it, but I do. I also remember knowing somehow that this was bad news, that it was going to be a mess even by war’s standards, and that hearing that announcement made the entirety of the evening sadder for me even though I wasn’t totally sure why. I too wish I had been wrong.


  2. Sheila Bigelow says:

    How do you do this, week after week?  You could be the conscience of the nation.  Of of the world.  You write so well and so cogently that these blogs continue to be a gift.  Not that I agree with you on every point, you know.  Just another reason you are loved.


    • The compliment is all the better because I know you disagree with me, my friend. Thank you for it, and for reading. As to how I do this, that’s very much a matter of paying attention through the week and then also being flexible enough to trash what I wanted to say and let what God needs me to hear come through.

      It’s probably practice for writing sermons one day. (Soon.)


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