“For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” – Hebrews 8:12
The memory of the national tragedy that befell us on September 11, 2001 turns 16 years old today. If it were a person, it could drive. It is nearly an adult, no longer a child anymore. How do we ourselves grow up in commemorating it?
The shorthand for September 11 is: Never Forget. Bumper stickers proclaim it. There is a price to forgetting history: some say, we are doomed to repeat it. But this wisdom is primarily for the perpetrators of violence, so that we might not forget what lives in our shadow side. How about when we are the victims of violence? Is there a price to remembering?
We used to believe that “talking it out” would help us heal from trauma, as we gained control of the narrative, finding our grief or fear lessened with each exposure. But new research shows that revisiting difficult things that have happened to us can actually re-traumatize us. Our bodies hold on, and feel themselves newly in danger as we re-expose ourselves to the story.
There is a young woman in my previous church. Her father was a NYFD firefighter who spent days helping to put out the blaze in the Twin Towers. He was rewarded by contracting esophageal cancer years later, as a result of breathing toxic fumes. He died three years ago. A loving and dutiful daughter, she still goes to all the commemoration ceremonies, to honor him and to stand in for him, but each one takes a huge emotional toll.
When will it stop? She asked me once. When can I be done?
There is a price to remembering.
God has a long memory, but does not practice remembering the harms we have done to Her. Jesus invited us to forgive our enemies and to pray for them. It’s another path to liberation from the pain of our past.
God, help me to remember what needs re-membering, and to forget what deserves forgetting, so that I can live fully in the present. Amen.
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Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of the First Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church and Standing Naked Before God.