I feel like I don't need all the media hoopla around the 10th
anniversary of 9/11 to remember how I felt that day or to answer Alan Jackson's musical query, "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?"
I had just finished arguing with the landscaper who was planting bushes in front of our house and I was feeling stressed because I was going to be late to work. As I was hurriedly dressing, I received a phone call from my husband. "Turn on the TV," he said. "There's been some kind of plane crash in New York."
I decided I didn't have the time and figured I could hear the news in the car radio on my way to work. Then, as I was driving and the full reality of what the radio was reporting finally penetrated my too-busy brain, my self-importance and assurance vanished. I was scared. I was shocked. I didn't believe what I had heard and didn't know what to do. I wanted to go home. I wanted to go to a church, any church, and pray. I wanted to hug my children. I wanted to call my brother and sister. I wanted to talk to my dad, who had been dead for years. But, since my job was relatively new, I decided I'd better continue on to work. When I arrived, my boss was crying and said, "Why are you here? Go home."
These memories seem crystal clear to me, but a researcher specializing in memory and cognition says memories of significant events are "flashbulb" memories--they may seem vivid but actually are a composite of many facts.
In a recent press release from Baylor University, Charles Weaver, PhD, professor of psychology and neuroscience, explained that our minds actually sort through a variety of details over time. "Gradually, our memories take shape; we get our stories straight," he says. For example, "Your memories of 9/11 might contain details you could not have learned until later in the week."
According to Dr. Weaver, our minds consolidate and compress our experiences, facts and emotions into a coherent but not necessarily precise memory. Viewing media reports and talking with other people can make us "remember" things that didn't actually occur. "Your memories converge," he says.
What are your memories of the day? If you are like me, they are specific and evoke strong emotion. Whether they are accurate or not, I am going to hold on to mine because I've decided that the act of remembering September 11, 2001 is more important than the memories themselves. Let us never forget, and let us learn from the events of the day, however we recall them.