How shall we remember?
It is an interesting question, one that presumes that we must remember.
But it is a different question than just a year ago, when we asked, “how shall we respond?” Then, we hoisted our flags, sang patriotic songs, rose up in soot-streaked anger. Then, we dug through the rubble, embraced the victims, posted flyers of the missing.
Now, as then, we have a Jewish vocabulary on which to rely. Words of despair and comfort, words of rage and compassion, words of lamentation and hope are all a part of our deep pockets from our wealth of suffering. Chants of grief, tropes that sigh, melodies that flirt with faint flames of renewal are all part of our repertoire of memory. Sacred vows to learn from tragedy and to honor the memory of the victims by living lives of purpose – these are the too-familiar tools of thousands of years of Jewish history.
The value of memory is that it is removed from immediate experience. Our needs shift as we increase the distance from tragedy, from shivah to sh’loshim to yahrzeit. We who remember have our lives back; the challenge is to renew them without betraying the past.
As Americans, it means preserving the very values that make us America. Our freedoms and protections are the cause for which the involuntary victims perished. Our civil liberties are the “blasphemies” for which we were attacked. Our marketplace of goods and ideas is the town square of our open society. Carefully, deliberately we must reconstruct them all from memory, even as we shore up our vulnerabilities.
But we must remember as well to allow our hearts to break. We need a liturgy, a voice, the tropes and chants of lamentation and tentative hope.
Do yourself a favor and listen to the voice of our American broken heart. Forget the patriotic anthems and rallying cries for the moment. At this time, at this yahrzeit, listen to Bruce Springsteen sing your tears. “I want a kiss from your lips, I want an eye for an eye, I woke up this morning to an empty sky,” he sings to every beloved victim. Spend a quiet hour with “The Rising” on September 11. Then rise up, remember, and rebuild.