9/11 was, and is, a collective grief. Thousands of people lost loved ones on that day, and tens and hundreds of millions felt that loss, grief, pain, anger and fear in their bones and cells around the world. It was as if a huge electric pulse had been sent out from New York to every corner of the world, shaking people from their lives, pulling people from their thoughts, waking people from their dreams. In a matter of minutes, for most people in the world, and definitely for all those in New York, and in America, the world would never be quite the same. A new history of violence had been created in one small moment, and that history, sadly, still goes on.
Today, all over America and probably all over the world, thousands of people bow their heads in the memory of those who were lost. We remember names, faces, smiles – moments of families together, husbands and wives in embraces, children blowing candles, friends laughing over drinks, grand parents telling stories. We remember the good in those who were lost, and we hold on to those memories – because while remembering is hard, forgetting would hurt even more. But others remember loved ones too. over 100,000 civilians have lost their lives in Iraq since 2001, and they were sons, daughters, mothers and fathers too. And the 15,000 or so civilians lost in Afghanistan – someone remembers them too. According to some estimates, around 30,000 or so civilians have died as a result of shadow wars taking place in Pakistan – but no one really knows for sure if any of these numbers are right. Then, of course, there are the thousands upon thousands of lost soldiers from all over the world, who have given their lives in the search for “justice”.
I didn’t lose someone I loved on that day, and I haven’t lost someone I loved in the aftermath. I was thousands of miles away, I was young, and I didn’t really understand all that happened, and all that surrounded the events of that day. I couldn’t grasp what it meant for those people who were directly affected, and I had no idea how many others would be indirectly affected as well – though the aftermath, the wars, the violence that would ensue, in the quest for justice. The need for revenge is a natural human feeling – but it can be very blinding as well. And as a result, hundreds of thousands of innocent lives have been lost after 9/11 – both American, and foreign. Do we remember those lives as well?
9/11 is not only a collective grief – it is a collective memory as well. And while, rightly, we bow our heads for those who died on that day as a result of a terrible crime against humanity and civility, we must not forget others who have died since, as a result of that day. The ripple effect of 9/11 did not end 11 years ago, and hasn’t ended yet – and the same hatred, fear, narrow-mindedness and inability to accept those who are different and live different types of lives still exists and grows in the world we live in. We need to remember more than those who were lost on that day – we need to remember the fear we felt, we need to remember the anger, the pain, the lust for payback, the need for revenge – and we need to remember the atrocities and violence that ensued, and the tens and hundreds of thousands of lives lost and affected as a result.
It is natural to want justice – but confusing justice with vengeance and retribution with violence only breeds more atrocities, more killing, and more lost lives to remember. Our collective memory will soon run out of space for all those lost as a result of bigotry, hate and fear, and the best thing we can do to honor those we’ve lost for violence is to build a legacy of something else. A legacy of tolerance and forgiveness, of understanding and acceptance. We should honor those who were lost by teaching children and young people to understand that being different does not equal being wrong, and that violence cannot be remedied with more violence. We should keep reminding ourselves and those around us that though the wounds may never heal entirely, we do have the power to break the circle of violence, to remember more than just the pain, and to create a history of tolerance and acceptance instead of violence and vengeance.