Memory Gloss

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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.