Commemoration in written word

Friday, September 9, 2011

As we mark ten years past the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, we’ll find no shortage of political commentary and analysis. I’m gratified to see so many personal reflections and essays too, but the scope of offerings is overwhelming. Here are a few items I appreciated reading:

David Sirota writes in Salon on teaching children about 9/11 to give a fuller frame to its controversial political context. He notes that today’s school-age kids, too young to remember themselves, are blank slates for post-9/11 reaction and spin. For those who would teach them, “That means finally rejecting the culture of fear, demagoguery and intimidation and instead beginning a more mature dialogue about uncomfortable truths.”

David Remnick recalls a historical disaster in New York city, the deadly fire aboard the steamship General Slocum in 1904. He reflects on why that thousand-fold loss of lives left only a scant mark on our common memory, and compares it to the context of 9/11: “Ten years after the attacks, we are still faced with questions about ourselves—questions about the balance of liberty and security, about the urge to make common cause with liberation movements abroad, and about the countervailing limits.”

In my opinion, narrative teaches us in a way that treatises never can. Marion Roach Smith shares a piece of memoir she read on NPR shortly after the attacks. The story, read again now, gives us a pause in the scramble to remember, calling to mind that the past is comprised of people with their own past. Fiction also has its ways of telling, as in this short story by Laila Lalami in The Guardian. The story is gentle and quick to read, yet meaningful. The Guardian has five other short stories that offer their insights.

Reading may both ease and deepen the collective weight of this weekend’s remembrances. If you have any recommendations, please share them.