|World Trade Center – Summer 2001|
For most people there is no connection between these dates, but for me, all three dates hold deep and lasting memories. The term “flashbulb memories” is defined as memories that are vivid, clear and concise. They are ones that we remember as if it happened yesterday. William Hirst, PhD. a flashbulb memory researcher at the New School for Social Research, has said, “What makes these events so memorable is the unusual intersection of the personal and the public, so that what becomes salient for you is actually learning about the event, in addition to the facts of it.” These flashbulb memories are so prominent in our minds that we couldn’t forget them if we tried, but is it possible for future generations to forget September 11?
Tragic events remain in our memories, and shape who we become, but usually there is nothing we can do to prevent these events. Nothing I could have done would have prevented the events of September 11, 2001, but I remember where I was and who I was with that day. I know that my older children remember as well. Who can forget the videos and photos of people leaping to their death to escape the flames and smoke? Or the images of ash falling over the city? Or the first responders who went into the buildings and never came out? Or the knowledge that terrorists willingly crashed planes into buildings killing innocent men and women? Hearing the frantic phone calls as loved ones tried to get in contact with people within the city?
In the summer of 2001, my family had visited New York City and had stood atop the World Trade Center looking out over the skyline. Weeks later we watched the events unfold on September 11, and my children’s world changed. The absence of the World Trade Center impacted our lives forever in many ways. Reality smacked my children in the face, and over the years the changes that occurred in our country continue to remind us that evil is alive and well. Never again would we enter a high profile building without being searched. Never again can we look at the skyline of NYC without knowing that there is a permanent void. I look at pictures of New York City and have such a deep sadness that time and distance cannot erase. I am unable to control which bad memories my brain retains.
Disappointing memories can also have a lasting impact. For example, September 15, 1996 was my 12th anniversary. While planning our vacation that year, I decided to “take” my husband and children to Florida to watch a Space Shuttle flight. The flight originally was scheduled for September 12, but due to delays it was rescheduled for the early morning hours of September 16. While I envisioned seeing the flight on September 12, and then having a nice anniversary dinner on the 15th, the dates changed and created what I believed at the time to be a bad chain of events. I was certain that my 12th anniversary would be less than stellar because I wasn’t interested in the shuttle launch. Because the flight was before 5:00 AM we had to be at the visitor launch area way too early. On our anniversary we got the kids to sleep early so we could wake them up at midnight to leave the hotel. In the early morning hours of September 16, 1996, along a Florida causeway with signs that read “Caution: Alligators,” with my husband and our 3 children, I watched in awe as the shuttle lifted off and the dark sky became illuminated as if it were midday. As the shuttle streaked into the air, the sky gradually darkened until only a tiny flame was seen which eventually faded away. It was one of the most inspiring and memorable moments of my life. It didn’t occur exactly as I planned, but nevertheless, that moment is forever etched into my mind.
October 3, 2014, was another one of those flashbulb memory moments. It was our last night of vacation at Walt Disney World. We spent the day in Epcot and then in the afternoon, my husband took our youngest two children swimming while my daughter and I relaxed. We had dinner reservations for the family in France. My husband wanted to have a window seat to watch Illuminations, but we were actually seated early and after dinner we walked out of the restaurant right when Illuminations was starting. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day. I will always remember where I was and who I was with on my 50th birthday.
My flashbulb memories represent major life events. These type of things don’t happen often, and most of them didn’t happen the way I planned. Most of my flashbulb memories are very personal and mean nothing to people outside my family. If you are old enough to remember September 11, 2001, it is most likely a flashbulb memory for you. And we can share that moment with almost everyone we know. This a moment in history you will not forget, but what about the people who weren’t born at that time? I have two children who never knew the World Trade Center. It is just pictures in a book or stories about long ago. My younger children never had the luxury of walking in a courthouse or other federal building without a metal detector. As we go about life this is normal for them. They have never known the world to be any different. And they don’t have flashbulb memories of September 11.
|My daughter standing near the Statue of Liberty
with the World Trade Center in the background
As citizens of this great nation, we have said “WE WILL NEVER FORGET,” and I believe this to be true, but eventually those who were alive on September 11 will pass away and the following generations will not have our vivid memories and the fear and sorrow surrounding the events of that day. Do the battles of the Civil War cause you to cry when you read about them? For most people the answer is No. Do images of the gas chambers make you gasp with horror? For me they do, but there are far too many people that even question if the Holocaust even happened.
In less than 70 years after the death of Hitler, people question the atrocities that occurred under his regime. Will that become our fate also? Is it even possible to ensure that our children’s children never forget September 11, 2001? What are you doing to remember?