HOW WE HAVE CHANGED

September 11th, 2011

In a secular age, public grief has become more religious.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, families of the killed and injured had plenty of grief to deal with.  Over the next three and a half years, there were hundreds of thousands of new occasions to grieve.  In Russia and Germany in those years, there were millions.  But public grieving doesn’t seem to have taken the form then that it does now.  After Pearl Harbor, the response seems to have been rather masculine and martial.  People cursed or hit Japanese-Americans.  They swore revenge on Hirohito.  They crowded into enlistment centers.  There was a direct, brutal logic to it.

There was some of that after 9/11, but I think much less than after 12/7.  And the remembrances of 9/11 ten years on seem to have an inward, feminine, mystical character compared to the formalized public grieving of a half century ago.  Now there are symbolic marches or “walks,” there are candle-lightings, there are “vigils,” there are myriad expressions of right-brained stuff which sort of make sense in their own circumscribed context but don’t … quite … translate … into anything immediately recognizable in the everyday left-brained world.

Here, for example, is a note on this weekend’s events in Abingdon, MA:

The Fire Department will host a candlelight ceremony 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 10 at the Jeff Coombs Memorial Flagpole near the library on Gliniewicz Way. A piece of steel from the World Trade Center will be on display during the ceremony.

The Jeff Coombs Memorial Foundation will host its 10th annual Memorial Road Race, Walk and Family Day at 9 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 18 at the Woodsdale Elementary School, 120 Chestnut St. A piece of steel from the World Trade Center will be on display during the road race.

Motorcycle riders will gather at VFW Post 5737 at 30 Central St. for a commemoration ride. Registration will be from 8:30 to 9:15 p.m. At 10:06 a.m., a ceremony will mark the time of the collapse of the South Tower at the World Trade Center.

Does no one else notice how ancient and religious all this behavior is?  Does no one sense the unspeakable logic of it all?  Why hold candles?  Why race or walk or ride motorcycles?  Why display relics of a dreadful event?  Why mark the time of the event?

Perhaps all religions (including the 9/11 bombers’, incidentally) find ways to harness these ancient, magical, sacrificial impulses.  Perhaps our modern, secular, “ecumenical” religion is now finding its ways too.

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