11 September 2015

The Burden to "Never Forget" - The Families of the 9-11 Victims

Joe Biden was on Colbert's new show last night and Colbert asked him about the recent death of his son, Beau Biden. Joe had the presence of mind to say that his loss was not unique. He was sure that there were quite a few people in the audience who had suffered similarly but what made his different was the fact that as a public figure, he has had an enormous outpouring of sympathy and support that so many other people don't have.

The friends and family of 9-11 victims have something similar. Every day, there are acts of violence and tragedy that unexpectedly end lives. Thye leave behind family who are shocked and mourning. The families of 9-11 victims are no different in this respect except, of course, the incredible outpouring of public support for their mourning. It wasn't just the sympathy, the memorials, the events, and the reporting that showed such enormous respect for their suffering. Congress even passed a bill that paid each family of the victims an average of $2,083.000.

In this sense, no victims of tragedy have ever had more support from the American people. On an average day in this country, 44 people are victims of homicide. About every two months, we lose as many Americans to homicide as we lost in the 9-11 tragedy. To add a layer of tragedy to what families suffer in this loss, those deaths are just part of the background noise of daily life. We don't stop - we can't stop - to acknowledge each one because then, our lives turned into perpetual mourning and reverence, what would there be to mourn? Death would be a release from solemnity and sadness, since that would define our days. So these families are forced to grieve while the world around them goes on as if nothing extraordinary has happened. By contrast, the families of 9-11 victims have gotten the proper respect for something so tragic. The world stopped to grieve with them. This doesn't happen in normal, personal tragedies.

But this could also be a tough thing for those 9-11 families. It's been 14 years. Life is about feeling loss and pain. It's also about moving on and letting go of the solemnity and sorrow that comes with a loss like that. I wonder if that isn't harder to do when every year the entire country reminds you of your loss and you - likely - feel obligated to awaken feelings of pain and loss that you may have finally released sometime in the last year. This could make survivor's guilt feel particularly acute, as if you aren't just letting down people around you but letting down an entire nation when you move on with your life and begin laughing about things even on the anniversary of the most shocking tragedy in your life. While 9-11 victims' families have had special support from this country, they've also had a special burden placed on them to "never forget." That can't be easy.


Anonymous said...

I've had similar thoughts about The Beatles. They're constantly asked about the two that aren't there, they see their pictures everywhere, they're liable to turn on the television or radio and hear their voices with no time to prepare. I went to see Paul McCartney in concert a few years ago, and there was a girl there that held up a giant picture of George.

It's probably the closest thing there is to being haunted by ghosts.

Ron Davison said...

Ghosts. Excellent point.
It would have to be weird to be Paul. You want to play music, help people to have a good time ... and then there are folks who would like you to mourn John Lennon's absence. Again.