I’ve known it was coming for a few months now. I’ve thought and rethought and thought again how to spend it. Then somehow, time streaked by, and it’s here—and I’m unprepared. I’d wanted to drive down to Dallas and visit one of the sites connected to that weekend. I might do that today. I’d wanted to get a hotel room downtown and just get away from the suburban nightmare for a day, but it was hard to justify the price, so I didn’t book anything. It’s strange to commemorate the anniversary of a tragedy. We know how to celebrate anniversaries of happy things. But awful things … how do we do that?
Some might wonder, “Why would someone even want to commemorate a tragedy?” Anyone wondering that is probably extremely unacquainted with grief or loss. I think anyone with any experience of loss knows that it’s important to remember such anniversaries, even if they can’t quite articulate why to themselves or others. And since articulating is what I do, let me try to answer that question: Because bearing witness to life-changing events and incidents is essential to human dignity. Failing to bear witness is dehumanizing.
Trauma, by its very nature, chips away at the core of the imago Dei in a person’s soul. It takes away their voice, their relationships, and their power. Rehumanization is needed, but sadly, people who experience trauma are often further traumatized when they try to reach out to others for support and are ignored. The dehumanization sinks to new depths as they try to use their voice, but it’s ignored again. They try to build new connections, but they are rejected. They work to start over and rebuild, but their efforts keep being knocked down.
So, to not acknowledge, to not remember, to not honor that day that marks the 24-hour period where life went from life to living death is to feed the living death even more. It’s to dehumanize even further. To acknowledge, to remember, to honor the horror of it all, the anguish and pain, is to take a bold and brave step toward acknowledging our own or others’ humanity, their value, their status as an image bearer of God.
Blessed are those who have such friends. Anguished are those who don’t. If no one will remember it with us, then we must remember it alone, bearing the additional crushing pain of wishing that someone was there beside us, that someone cared enough to know what day it was, to know that it had been coming, and to bear witness that it mattered. That it still matters. That WE matter. That sometimes, in a twisted and ironic way, the only thing of value left in our lives, the only thing that’s precious, is our pain.
And to be honest, it’s actually not that strange when we remember how much that pain has cost us. It’s valuable precisely because it’s taken away so much from us, and in a sense, honoring that pain is really just a back-door way to honor the loss of everything the pain has taken from us. That it took health, opportunities, relationships, rites-of-passages, marriages, children, homes, bank accounts, community, friends, joy, peace, hope, and any kind of sense that the world is safe or good. That it robbed us of life and years and experiences that can’t be restored.
And so, today I will remember. Somehow, in some way, I will remember, even though I do it alone. I will remember what happened to me. I will remember what it felt like. I will remember what it looked like. I will reflect on the trajectory it set me on. That it somehow put me on a path that even ten years later, I can’t find a freeway exit for, but am stuck on this same road, not able to get back to the road of life, the road of hope, the road of opportunity.
And then, as I’ve been trying to do for the past ten years, I will do my best to keep going. I will do my best to not give up. I will do my best to not let the anguish, the rage, and the terror consume me. I will try to care for others in the ways I haven’t been cared for. Where possible, I will shake the dust from my feet and leave the relationships and environments characterized by the superficiality and idolatry of the North Dallas suburbs, where they just don’t even know what they don’t know.
And I will try to plug my ears to Satan and remember Jesus, who said, “Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me” (John 16:32).
He will bear witness with me.