Why I’ll Strive to Remember

Why I’ll Strive to Remember

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I so rarely wade into the proverbial water around September 11th because the day is full of sadness and grief and fear and passion. I feel unqualified to talk about the day it happened or the days that followed because I was a thousand miles away and still so young in so many ways.

I was old enough to have a full-time job. Old enough to understand that what happened that day was not right or normal. Old enough to have a lot of feelings but not learned enough to know what to do with them. For years I avoided movies or books or television specials about 9/11 because I could not handle the pain of it all. I did not want to participate in the suffering of others.

A lot has changed since then.

These past few weeks, I’ve been glued to the news as one disaster after another hits various parts of the world. At times, I am overcome with sadness. What can I do? What can any of us do? I watch. I pray. I weep. I donate. And it all feels so small.

What I don’t want to do is forget.

Weeks, months, years from now people will still be recovering from these most recent disasters. Long after the news crews move on to the next story, the next disaster, there will still be work to do.

“Never forget.”

It is the mantra of this day we call Patriot Day, when we think back on the days surrounding September 11, 2001.

Can I confess something to you? It has always rubbed me wrong.

At first, I was cynical: Never forget? Please. We as a people are notoriously forgetful. Will we keep this tragedy before us daily? “Always” and “never” are words we should seldom use.

Lately, my reasoning for disliking these words has changed. When I think of someone saying the words “never forget,” I hear an undertone of bitterness. A hardening of the heart. Something like “I will never forget what you did.”

It’s a subtle difference, but I wonder what would happen if we changed the words from “never forget” to “always remember.”

Photo by Emanuele Bresciani on Unsplash

Maybe I am making something out of nothing. Maybe they mean the same thing. But when I think about “remembering” it seems different. To “never forget” seems to hold a grudge, and I wonder if these two words have caused a rift in our collective relationship with Muslims. Are we holding an entire people responsible for the acts of a few? I  don’t know.

And please don’t hear me saying that we should just brush it off and let it go. Not at all. The pain of 9/11 runs deep, and that day changed our country. We should remember it. Definitely.

But maybe we should ask ourselves how we’re remembering it. Or what we’re remembering. Yes, there are things about that day we will never forget. The images of planes flying into buildings and buildings crumbling to the ground are seared in our minds. All of us over a certain age have stories from that day, memories of the events, our feelings, reactions. But is it terror we still feel? Anger? Despair? Do we remember hope? Love? Faith?

I was living in Illinois at the time. I was an education reporter for my hometown newspaper. Twenty-three years old. I’d been a Christian for four years. The news broke when we were on deadline, and we all stopped what we were doing to watch the newsroom television as the second plane hit.

Then it was non-stop activity for the rest of the day. I was given the assignment to drive to a local high school to get reaction from students and teachers. By the time I arrived, the Pentagon had been hit and I had no idea. I remember that I didn’t cry until late in the day because I had been so busy doing my job.

I didn’t know anyone in New York City. I’d never heard of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I’d only ever seen the Pentagon on TV and it seemed impenetrable. But I remember feeling connected to every American. I drove through Illinois later that week or the next week and every sign in front of a store or church that I passed had some message of hope. I lost count of the American flags I saw.

I also didn’t know any Muslims. I knew nothing of the fear they felt that day. I didn’t know much about Islam or what the Bible said about war.

By the time the 10-year anniversary came around, we were living in Pennsylvania, and the remembrances of that day took on new meaning for us. Numerous times, we had driven past the field where Flight 93 crashed. We were a two-hour drive from New York City. The stories we heard from the people we knew here were different than the ones we experienced in the Midwest.

Slowly, I’ve let my heart open to the grief, pain and sadness of that day. Gradually, I’ve sought to understand the feelings from many different sides.

I can’t say that in all these years I have lived with a “never forget” mindset because at times I have forgotten. Even as recently as this weekend, with Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida, I didn’t realize September 11th was Monday.

I may not be able to “never forget,” but I will strive to remember.

I will remember that America changed that day. It hasn’t always been for the good, but it hasn’t been all bad, either. I will remember that hurt runs deep and people express that hurt in myriad ways. Ways that are different from how I would express it.

I will remember that it’s okay to cry and feel sadness and to grieve and that grief doesn’t have an expiration date, so even 16 years later, it is not somehow wrong to feel loss.

I will remember that Americans were not the only victims. That innocent people in other parts of the world suffer these kinds of tragedy often and live in fear for their lives. I will remember that American lives are not more valuable than any other lives.

I will remember that it is a great sacrifice for men and women to leave their families and serve in combat zones for months and years at at time. (How could I forget that five years after 9/11, my future husband would spend a year in Iraq?)

I will remember that none of this is easy, that we need each other in our suffering, and we need each other in our healing, too. I will remember that some wounds take longer than others to heal.

I am grateful that we have days set aside to remember because it is all too easy to go about our busy lives and forget.

Although it is September 12th or later when you read this, it is my hope that you, too, will strive to remember.



Lisa Bartelt About Lisa Bartelt

Lisa has been writing stories for more than a decade, first for newspapers and now as a freelancer, blogger and budding novelist. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two kids. Read more at her blog, Beauty on the Backroads.


  1. I understand your differentiation in wording. “Never” is a negative, and as such, we automatically think in a negative way. “Remember” is a positive.
    When those who experienced 9/11 want to teach their children about that day, I think “Remember” is the better word. Teach our children to remember that innocent people died, and we want to prevent that from happening again. To remember that evil exists in the world, and it is the good person’s responsibility to defeat evil.
    Thank you for this thoughtful post.

  2. Laurie Driesen says:

    I too, love how you are using “always remember” instead of “never forget”. I’m going to remember that – I think it does make a difference! Thank you Lisa!

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