And In This Way
By Robert Bateman
Each of us has our own story about where we were and what we were doing on that bright September day seven long years ago. "Where were you?" is a question that will follow everyone who was alive and sentient at the time. We will tell our stories to our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren, and each story will be unique. Together, however, these fragments constitute a whole. A mosaic of personal tales which, taken together, will help future generations understand.
I will put on my historian's hat for a moment to tell you that reassembling the mosaic that can explain the people of the past to those of the present is not simple or easy. It is all the more difficult when the shards are wildly inconsistent. But it is downright impossible if you do not have at least something to work with. I know this from experience. I fear this for the future. Please, then, bear with me as I wax a tad pedantic in this entry.
I would like to ask something of you, and I hope that you promulgate this request as well. Take some time out today and write your account of what you saw, heard, felt, said and thought on Sept. 11, 2001.
I do not ask this for my benefit. Indeed, it is not even necessarily for someone you know. Really, you are doing this for an anonymous somebody 100, or 300, or perhaps even 500 years in the future. You may be related to that person, you may not, but your memories are important.
Humanity builds upon the past. This is a part of what makes us human. The ability to pass on complex thoughts, ideas, memories, is very much a part of what makes our species different. We do not know, we cannot know, what will follow us in the centuries to come. But we can, in some small way, contribute to their humanity by recording, for them, our own.
Now because of the accident of my education, I know something of the troubles historians have with sources. This is no dig on you, but actually upon all of our forefathers. Those guys left cruddy records. Seriously. Accordingly, I have a few additional requests on behalf of the future. I ask that you make this record of your day in a very specific way, or as close to it as you can come. If you are willing, read on, as I drop into "full professor mode" for a moment.
For starters, you have to make this record on paper. You can do that with a pencil, or a pen, or printed out from your computer, but it has to end up on paper. Why? Well, anybody who started using computers for "word processing" (I hate that term) back in the late '80s or early '90s can testify that today, a mere 20 years later, they have lost nearly all of what they wrote back then. Sure, some people still have boxes of old floppy disks laying around in their basement, but even those who do probably do not have a computer that can read those disks anymore (even if the data has not been corrupted), nor a computer program that can decipher their 1s and 0s into text. So paper, it must be. Your words, your memories and thoughts, should endure.
Next, a word about what you should write. Please, for the sake of that macaroni-and-cheese-eating-living-on-a-starvation-stipend future graduate student who is writing his dissertation in the year 2217 and who wanted to do backflips when he first stumbled upon your brief manuscript, follow something like these instructions.
Assume that this is the only thing that you will ever write that will outlast you by centuries. That means you need to say who you are, and who you believe yourself to be. Taking myself as an example, society defines me as a late-20th-early-21st century white, Midwestern, middle-class male, a husband and father, who has travelled extensively and is both a professional soldier and an academic. Looking at myself from inside, I would add the descriptors "rider of motorcycles" and "sailor" and "beach bum." That would be enough for the historian centuries hence to get a grasp on the "who" of his source. It is not all of me, but it helps.
The next part is the toughest. Concentrate on exactly what happened, to you, that day. Start at the beginning, with when you woke up. Move forward through your day, as it occurred, without embellishment. Be as exacting as you possibly can be and, believe me, that will not be easy.
As a historian, I can tell you that memory is a tricky, plastic thing. It can bend, it can warp, and there will be gaps.The noted military historian Carol Reardon found that in post-battle accounts of Pickett's Charge, during the Battle of Gettysburg, some soldiers recalled a famous bombardment as lasting four hours, while others believed the whole event took only 20 minutes. I cannot think of a better example of the flexibility of our minds. But by sticking to only the specifics of what you can absolutely positively recall, you will be creating something useful.
Please, try to fight the natural inclination to add in things that you learned later. For example: We did not know, that horrible morning, who was behind the attack, so leave that out. (Hell, we did not know that we were even under attack at first.) The same goes for any inclination towards politics. Save those for a later part of your memoir. For the moment, I merely ask that you record your memories of that single awful day.
Record the curiosity you had that morning, then the confusion as it built, then the other emotions as they occurred and in each case explain what prompted the reaction. Place them in sequence. Write down, as best you can, what you heard, when you heard it (or saw it), who you were with, what those people said or did, and in all of these things confine yourself to the smallest parameters. Only what you knew. Only what you saw. Only what you thought, heard, said and did.
These thoughts, memories, observations can be about the mundane ("the garage door was stuck that day, so I had stayed home"), the personal ("I wondered how my grandmother had felt on 7 December"), the internal ("I felt sick, I could not eat"), or the external ("I watched, in awe, as people in New York streamed on foot across the Brooklyn Bridge"). Do not limit yourself. Explore your memory, and record it for posterity.
And in this way, we will remember.
(This entry is dedicated to my friend and hero, Rick Rescorla, May 27, 1939 - Sept. 11, 2001. Garryowen.)
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