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9/11 Memorial

We briefly talked in class about what the 9/11 memorial means to us now and what it will symbolize in the future, and why people visit memorials. I have a few thoughts on these points and I hope others will chime in.

I believe that for those of us who are old enough to have experienced 9/11, the memorial is more emotionally powerful and meaningful than for those who may have been too young to understand and be affected by 9/11. I noticed this in the many school groups that happened to be visiting the memorial on the day I went. Kids who appeared to be in their first years of high school were posing in front of the pools in groups holding up peace signs and other symbols. This bothered me slightly, but not as much as the next thing I saw. I then saw a mother with a camera aimed at her two children saying, “Smile!” This made me scowl. I thought, why would you want to smile here? There is nothing to smile about! 

But I’ve been doing some ex situ thinking since then. When I go to D.C, what do the memorials mean to me? Do I give them the respect that I gave to the 9/11 Memorial? The answer is no. No, I do not believe that I feel the same emotions going to Vietnam Memorial as I did at the 9/11 Memorial. In fact, I feel like dipping your feet and swimming in the WWII Memorial is probably more disrespectful than smiling in front of the 9/11 Memorial. And yes, I am guilty of splashing around the pool of the WWII Memorial on a few hot summer days.

I guess this brings me to something else we talked about in class–JGB’s Titanic dinner. There is some sort of evolution that goes on as time passes after a traumatic event. The event becomes commercialized. Key chains and pictures are sold to those who do not remember; the day is recreated; and we take pleasure and buy these things that are supposed to make up for lost memories.

And in the process of trying to recreate the true events that happen, we lose the details that made the event so terrifying and real. As in what Nina talked about today, we must enter our own details that may not be accurate but at least let us feel the tone and gravity of the situation, although some of the truth is lost.

As for why we visit memorials, I think it depends on the person. Some may visit because they were touched by the event in some way. Others may be interested in the memorial as art. And still others may enjoy learning about the history behind the memorial. When I went to see the 9/11 Memorial, I went because I felt connected to the event and I was interested in how they would memorialize the lives lost that day. This connection grew as my father pointed to a name of a person on the memorial who was from my hometown.

I hope to try to feel the meaning and respect older memorials that I visit in the future, just as I respected the 9/11 Memorial, and I hope others do the same. Now, I’m interested in knowing why you visit memorials, so please tell.

3 Responses to “9/11 Memorial”

  1. Marta says:

    I mentioned in class that I’m terribly interested in Jewish culture (especially Ashkenazic), but don’t know a lot about it. As such, I’ve always been interested in museums to do with Jewish history and the Holocaust (or perhaps I should say the Shoah), even though I’ve only known one Jewish family in my whole life and they were Israeli. I suppose to me it seems that understanding the Shoah is an important part of understanding the Jews as a people, and so I am compelled to expose myself to knowledge even when that knowledge is horrifying. I think JGB is probably right in that people may respond similarly to 9/11 museums and memorials because they seek to understand more about the U.S. and the events that shaped it historically and culturally.
    I also agree that anything with which one feels a connection or affinity, however remote, is likely to feel more pertinent and interesting; being old enough to at least remember when 9/11 occurred, I think it makes sense that the members of our generation would be compelled to learn more about something that we perhaps only vaguely understood at the time, by virtue of the fact that it indirectly concerns us as U.S. citizens. Perhaps the peace signs and smiling tourist photos can be explained by youth, lack of remembrance, lack of understanding, and/or emotional or geographical distance?

  2. Thanks, Verena, for this post — and thanks to Marta as well for her comment. One of the aspects of the Vietnam Memorial that seems to preserve its solemnity and power is the fact that even today siblings, friends, comrades, spouses, children, and grandchildren of those who died in Vietnam place flowers, photos, and other memorabilia at the base of the wall. That memorial has, of course, served as a model of sorts for more recent memorials — like the 9/11 memorial — in making the tribute absolutely and eternally personal by listing the names of those who died.

  3. Kaitlin says:

    A memorial is about remembering, but it is about remembering that something happened, or about remembering how it felt when something happened? In the context of the 9/11 memorial, remembering how the event felt seems more valid, at least to us. However, I cannot say that I feel the same about the WWI memorial. No matter how hard I try, I can’t remember how that felt; similarly, the people who were hanging around the 9/11 memorial apparently disrespectfully probably don’t remember how 9/11 felt. Since we’ve brought up the Holocaust, I will mention that I have felt pressure whenever people talk about it with me to feel something regarding it. I have absorbed the vague horror that all discussions of the Holocaust invariably impart, and I certainly remember how I felt when I listened to my mother relate the plot of “Sophie’s Choice” (the movie), but I have always felt bad that I don’t have a more visceral reaction to it. Then again, how can I? All the emotions associated with it come to me secondhand. In “The Zero”, Edgar pretended that his father had died in 9/11 to avoid participating in the vague horror most people felt that other people’s fathers had died. He wanted the personal emotions that come with a real personal loss.