Skip to content

Remembering the Past

I was surprised to hear LBR had felt uncomfortable with some of the responses to my latest post about New Orleans.

I have spent this past day caught in many images: New Orleans, New York City, the PATH station at the World Trade Center I walked through twice a day for two years in the 1990s to and from my job directing a special library in lower Manhattan. As I rummage across memories and images, I have also been reflecting on the difference between the California of my mind and my childhood, and the California I moved to.

On the evening of September 11, 2001, I was ready to drive back to New York. It took massive will on my part to stay here in California, less than a month after I had arrived, knowing that the rest of my family and all my worldly goods would remain on the other coast for many months to come. I was lonely and frightened, and I–along with the rest of the world–had no idea whether the entire world was now completely disintegrating or (as history would eventually show us) only one small if very important part of it. My new job was just not that important to me. But I decided to stay, pulled less by any sense of obligation than the desire to try life out in these parts and the reassurance that my family would eventually be with me.

When we talk about how we feel about going to ALA in New Orleans, we have to be frank that first and foremost come our own needs and concerns. I would like to think that New Orleans will be able to host ALA next summer. But it is not blasphemous to ask ourselves under what circumstances we are willing to attend an association conference. Are we willing to ignore how much of the city was destroyed? Are we willing to acknowledge that we stroll where bodies floated, where chaos reigned? Are we willing to walk down hallways where corpses rotted for days on end while Brownie was doing a heckuva job?

The answer here may be yes. I have stood on hillocks and city streets that represented battles, fires, earthquakes, murders, and other grief, and felt I was honoring the lives those landmarks represented. I have been back to the New York subway entrance I passed through every day, to and from my way to work, and faced the remnants of that archway and found that I was comforted, not haunted, to see the evidence of the reality behind my memory. But it is an answer we have to get to first by asking the question. And it is not the same answer for everyone.

Posted on this day, other years: