Memory Gloss


Yesterday, September 11, “Never Forget” was all over my newsfeed. It heartened me—all these friends unwilling to let the unthinkable act of terrorism fade from memory.

Remember where you were when you heard? How about the days after? When a man could run down the Bishop Ford Freeway in Chicago waving an American flag and NO ONE WAS OFFENDED? People honked and cried and cheered.

Remember how everyone brushed off the Pledge of Allegiance and our trinity of patriotic songs and actually vocalized them? “The Star Spangled Banner,” “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America” could—I swear—be heard from outer space. We were busy joining ranks. No energy left to fight with each other for those few intoxicatingly heartbreaking days. We were all just Americans watching out for each other.

How about that Hurricane Harvey? Did you watch coverage of the rescues? The response during and after the hurricane is already legendary. Scenes of people of all ages and ethnicities and incomes and beliefs helping others of all ages and ethnicities and so on. Who is going to argue about statues and checking immigration status while outrunning flood waters?

Hurricane Irma and the wildfires in the west slapped us upside the head. All our technology is just a literal spitting into the wind So we joined with and enjoined each other to prayer, for loved ones in the path of devastation and for hundreds of thousands of strangers. We prayed fervently because a crisis reminds us we’re all family and we all rely on Someone who controls the winds and the flames. To my knowledge no one has yet been censured for encouraging prayers in these calamities.

Why do our minds gouge the moments of disaster so clearly in our memories but gloss over the selfless fellowship and unity that result? For a few brief hours after 9/11 it seemed we were able to lay differences aside and find common ground. Maybe it could last. But no. America has blurred the brotherhood and the last 16 years have mounted division upon hatred upon finger-pointing upon discord. We blame the current president, the past several presidents, the electoral college or the liberals or the conservatives. Oh, and we blame the “other side.” The one that doesn’t stand for the stuff we stand for.

Beautiful things happened while Harvey raged. But what happens when the water recedes? Buildings will be cleaned out and the rescuers will take their boats home. Eventually the hurricanes brewing in the Atlantic will be old news and those crazed wildfires finally die out. You know what scares me almost as badly as the natural disasters? That those panic glasses—the ones we put on to see past ethnicity and politics and our own hubris—will come off. The prayers will dry up and once again we’ll see each other in the cold harsh light of self-righteous judgement.

What disaster will get Americans to quit digging around in other Americans for something to dislike—skin tone, religion, party affiliation, economic status, lineage, stance on various issues? Why can we remember where we were when we heard about the attacks of 9/11 but can’t remember how much we loved and needed each other in those frightening days? Why will we remember the beauty of those flood rescues but forget that the language of compassion should drown out the differences in our native tongues? Why were we so aware of our UNITED States then and so forgetful of what unites us now?

Pray God we take the mental equivalent of fish oil or whatever improves our memory, Pray our total recall isn’t limited to the catastrophe itself. Let’s rub off the gloss that obscures the heartfelt political/religious/color blindness we experienced for a brief time. We don’t want another tragedy to help us remember.

Some weather we’ve been having

morninOurs is a big back yard. We live in a neighborhood of about a dozen homes, all with big yards, all with people who generally keep themselves to themselves.

Recently I found myself near our back property line at the same time our neighbor found himself at HIS back property line. Lo and behold, they are the same line. The customarily comfortable waves-from-a-distance and hearty “Hello there!” were not appropriate at close range. We instead did what any quiet, self-respecting, non-meddling type folks do who experienced a hot, buggy August and a soaking wet September.

We talked about the weather.


How banal! How expected! And boring. Don’t forget boring. Out of all the topics in the world, we chose to spend those precious intersecting moments discussing mosquitoes and drizzle and the current unexpected sunshine and brisk breeze. So why, when we veered back to the safe sections of our yards too distant for conversation, didn’t I feel guilty? The High Queen of Hindsight, I always feel guilty. About everything. Yet I didn’t have one qualm about a brief chat on the wonderful break from heat and humidity that had driven us both out of our indoor sanctuaries in the first place.

I don’t know where this neighbor and his wife stand on the election, education, evolution, or ecology. A brief and awkward conversational foray into religion had sent them scurrying home and avoiding our mutual lot line for a few months. We haven’t gotten the courage to broach that topic again.

We chose, standing on either side of that imaginary line on a plat map, to stick to the most basic of subjects. Neither of us brought up matters of great importance, like the future of our nation, our planet, our souls. Why not?

Maybe, I mulled, we did. We stood on common ground sharing the most elemental of traits. We are both humans.

Instinctively we know this is a potential problem. Humans are seething masses of opinions and emotions and uncertanties and angers. Try reaching into THAT cauldron of physical and psychological goo and figure out where the neighbor’s story intersects with yours. I dare you.

The politics and passions and longings of humanity may be in 7.5 billion unique configurations, but we all need oxygen and food and water and warmth. Each of those basic human needs is contingent upon the weather we’re having, and we have weather. Every. Single. Day. Of our lives.

Go ahead, talk about the heat, the cold, the snow, the rain, the drought. You aren’t being trite. You and another human are meeting at your mutual lot line.