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DEAR READER: Sept. 11 is a vivid, full-color memory

Friday, September 9, 2011 | 2:51 p.m. CDT; updated 9:06 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 9, 2011

Dear Reader,

Ten.

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The number stands without ornament. This weekend, we recognize its significance without the crooked nine or twin ones. 

We know there’s meaning here, even if we can’t name it. Even if we’d rather not look — not feel — again.

The scholar James Carey once wrote that the job of a journalist is to preserve the “collective memory” of our common life. It is, he said, a struggle against forgetting. Our shared experience acts as the bulkhead against those who would re-order and replace our memories for theirs.

Journalism, he wrote, “converts valued experience into memory and record so it will not perish.” And so we remember, and share.

Every personal story of 9/11 begins in the moment. I remember:

  • Hearing the voice of David Lile on the radio in the bathroom as the scene of the first plane hitting the tower played over and over on the bedroom television set.
  • Looking at more than 35 students, not a one over 25 years old, as they stared at another TV set in the Missourian newsroom and thinking — what do I tell them?
  • Crying as I stood on the hill at Memorial Stadium with my wife and 40,000 others at the first Missouri football game after the world changed.

They are vivid, full-color scenes that retain their sharpness long after other 10-year-old days yellow and fade. Those moments are few. My mother can tell you exactly where she was when Kennedy was shot, my grandmother when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

I’d rather forget the fear and anger. I can’t. We shouldn’t.

Missourian designer Josh Barone asked me: Is it about more darkness or more light?

What he meant: Is this a story of terror or hope, of the decline or rise of our communities, of the sacrifices of war and conflict around the globe or the ascendance of people like those in New York who took the punches and said: Is that all you have?

I asked the rest of the newsroom.

The answer: yes, and more.

You’ll see the sparkle and shadows in the front page of the print edition. You’ll hear it online in the words of those Task Force 1 members who worked the World Trade Center site. You’ll feel it in the lives of other Columbia residents who became targets because of the source of their faith.

For six months, I’ve tried to understand how and even whether we wanted to remember 9/11. I’ve asked blue-collar workers at New York coffee shops and teenagers in Columbia, Mo. I don’t know whether you will spend Sunday talking about 9/11 or simply acknowledge it privately, and in passing.

Collectively, though, we won’t forget.


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