Thirteen years have passed and I still feel the darkness of September 11, 2001. I don’t think about it every day like I used to, but I’ve never been able to think about it without a deep sense of trouble – and perhaps it is a sense of deeper trouble to come. I’ve read blog posts and newspaper editorials saying, “Let it go. Unless you were a victim, get over it.” I can’t get over it. Not really.
I wasn’t a victim. I was safely in my home in Columbus, Ohio, under blue skies, watching the news while I was getting ready for work. Just like most of America. Two degrees of separation have kept me from personally experiencing the loss of that day. I know people who know people but I don’t know anyone myself. Maybe I should get over it, I say to myself, knowing well that I won’t. Getting over it feels like a betrayal to those who died under terrorism’s twitchy thumb.
Last night, I watched a CSPAN program on “Hiroshima & Nagasaki Atomic Bombings Remembered,” introduced by Clifton Truman Daniel, grandson of President Truman, the man who ordered the bombs. You may have heard the story of a young girl named Sadako, who was two when we dropped the bomb on Hiroshima. She wasn’t expected to live a year. At some point in her young life, she began folding hundreds of paper cranes in hopes that they would grant her wish to live. She died at age 12 of leukemia. Decades later, during a ceremony honoring the victims of 9/11 in 2010, Sadako’s older brother visited Clifton Truman Daniel and placed in his hand the last crane made by Sadako before she died. Sometimes the smallest things we leave behind tell the bigger truths.
The CSPAN program hosted one survivor of Nagasaki and one of Hiroshima. They spoke earnestly of their fear that what they experienced will be forgotten, that nuclear weapons will continue to threaten the world as they have every day since 1945. They are getting older and feeling desperate. Few have heard their stories, now that nearly 70 years have passed.
Both survivors shared their memories of the bombs. The blinding, exploding light still haunts them. Both talked of the bodies of their respective city’s dead and how each day the locations of the cremations, which occurred on school playgrounds, edged closer and closer to where they lived so that it was impossible to avoid the smell, impossible for a child not to watch and look for a familiar face. Of course, the memories etched their lives as distinctively as their own fingerprints. But the first-person singularity of their stories will fade with their passing from this world.
It would be easier for the rest of us, of course, if we covered our ears, diminished those still speaking uncomfortable truths, erased the tapes and hid the photographs, stashed away paper cranes. But denial is deadly – we see it in the goose-stepping fervor of neo-Nazis, in the murder of a young black man in Ferguson, MO. When we try to forget, we make things worse. We make them bigger and uglier.
The survivor of Hiroshima told of trying to plant vegetables in the years following the bomb and how when pulling up a potato, one would find bones. The things we bury come back to life.