My mom would have turned 88 today but it has been 10 years since her death. For the last 10 years of her life, that celebration was overlayed by all the horror and desolation of “9/11” and I still regret that for her. Especially with the passage of time, but even from the night she died, I have not often felt my mom’s presence. Now, in light of the time after my dad’s death last August, I am struck by the fact that I feel my dad’s presence so often. I think there’s a pretty straightforward explanation for that difference—Dad was so much a part of the quotidian experience of life on our little farm that there are all kinds of memories associated with different parts of our place and the things that fill my days. I still have the sense when I am out in our small pecan grove that if I turn quickly enough, I will catch him walking with Mouse, the cats and the horses just behind me.
This morning, I went out and did some gardening, one of Mom’s great delights. In a flash and unexpectedly, it was as if she was right there next to me, digging into the soil, telling stories about her garden. I was so grateful for that moment of connection with her. She was a complicated person and our relationship was complicated, but in that moment there was none of that, just the simple truth of how much she loved me and how much I loved her. It is love which does not die.
I’ve been struggling to put words down on paper for weeks. The news keeps overwhelming me, leaving me struggling for a single word of hope I might hold on to or share with others. Marking the first anniversary of my dad’s death and the unraveling of the relationship with one of my siblings has been painful. There’s work to do that takes energy and small projects that require less of me and help me fill time. I’ve also had upper respiratory crud that fortunately is not Covid-19 but still has left me tired. This week though, something started shifting. My sermon for tomorrow has come together far more easily than others have for weeks. Words and then sentences started taking hold as I watched all the media kick into high gear in commemoration of 9/11.
Day before yesterday, Sherod told me his niece, who is a retired Army lieutenant colonel, called to talk to him about the flare-up of PTSD she was experiencing. As she watched the news one morning this week, she saw a clip of the Pentagon just after the plane crashed into it that day. K had been in that wing and she realized she was watching herself pulling another staff person out who was covered in blood. She’d never known that moment was captured on film and it was horrific to watch.
This is what occurs to me about the difference between presence, remembering, and reliving the past, especially when there is money to be made and ad time to sell: I guess because of how our brains work, the sense of being present with someone who’s absent or even dead, comes from the grooves or synapse chains in our brains that place that person in a deeply familiar task or kind of experience. We know down to our core how someone we’ve loved and lost would be in this place, in this moment. Sherod and I tell little stories about my dad more frequently now—“Remember when Dad….” The edges of those pictures are a little fuzzier, there is a kind of distance that tempers whatever it was that happened. The relentless onslaught of clips of 9/11 that are played over and over with no mercy are like the worst of the flashbacks that I have watched Sherod experience from his time in Vietnam. It feels exploitive. And because this is such a common practice now, at a time when fractures are becoming abysses in this country, that process of revisiting is not just unhealthy, it feels life-draining and so very destructive.
I can tell you exactly where I was when I heard the news of the first airplane crashing into the first of the World Trade buildings. I find my heart beginning to race if I happen to catch a snippet of sound of that day as Sherod watches TV. I have been on the verge of tears for a couple of days now. But I do not dishonor the dead or how badly our nation was wounded when I am clear that it has been twenty years. That life has gone on. That there are things I have to do and be today that are about now. Now.
I am grateful for the memories and what they help me learn. I thank the One who created my Mami. I thank the One who created me for my life and for everything my mom was and did while she walked on this home we call Earth. That is all.