Living is a powerful form of remembrance

This commentary appeared in the Bend Bugle on Sept. 9, 2002

By Mike Van Meter

As I consider my personal response to Sept. 11, my thoughts return often to a thought from historian and philosopher Will Durant:

"Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river."

The quote is repeated often by Chip Scanlan, who is reporting, writing and editing group leader for the Poynter Institute, a school for journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla. Scanlan repeats the quote in many if not most of the writing seminars he gives, and occasionally e-mails it to folks with whom he corresponds. It speaks to the possibilities of journalism not often sought in the maelstrom of deadlines, politics and disaster.

I was reminded once again while interviewing Hospice experts for an article that ran in last week's Bugle. Wendy Howard, bereavement coordinator for the organization, talked of how her children responded to the Sept. 11th attacks, and how her daughter Emily was drawn to the conclusion that people got married and had children before the attacks, and people will do the same after the attacks.

That, I believe, is the power of humanity -- to experience suffering and then to rise up and overcome.

Three months after the attacks, I took my first trip back East -- my first time east of the Continental Divide, as a matter of fact -- to meet family and friends of Stacey Donohue, my fiancee. We also did the tourist thing in New York City, spending two nights overlooking Times Square and three nights in a Brooklyn brownstone with upper-floor windows looking toward the Manhattan skyline.

We went to Ground Zero and caught a glimpse of the hole where the World Trade Center towers used to stand.

Other tourists caught more than a glimpse -- they climbed fences and walls to take pictures of the hole. They wanted to look at the stream filled with blood.

The Trade Center, Durant would suppose, is what historians see amid that tragedy. It's hard to miss. Stacey used to work in it, and she and her friends were deeply and personally affected by the tragedy. Visiting the site was an incredible experience.

More incredible to me, though, was the power of life on the riverbanks. Seeing Manhattan from Brooklyn and touching the private memorials on the boardwalk overlooking the river, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and experiencing the energy of a city that feels very much like the center of the universe even amid the pain of such a monstrous loss ... this was the strength of humanity. Even though there is enormous gap in the skyline, walking the streets of such a city is to be carried away by an energy that speaks to possibility and hope, not to death and destruction.

As I finish writing this, I am engaged to be married. By the time it hits the streets, I will be married. It's not the stuff of front page news, but it is life on the riverbanks.

There are many possible responses to Sept. 11, reflected in a vast array of events in remembrance of the personal, national and global tragedy. The most powerful, and the most threatening to those who would try to take away our hope, is to "build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues."


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