British philosopher Bertrand Russell said, “Don’t let the old break you; let love make you.” This is a fitting mantra for the anniversary of 9/11. Healing is not about forgetting the past and it’s also not about being ruled by the past. It’s about claiming your memories, letting the loving memories inspire your best life, and denying pain the right to control your life. Work with memories, not against them. They are one of the powerful tools at your disposal to process experiences and reclaim your power.
Memory is also one of the ways you can measure how much progress you have made. Do you ever spend time leafing through old photo albums, especially in the days before digital photos? Apart from laughing at old hair styles and fashion faux pas, it’s awesome to notice how much you’ve experienced and how much you’ve grown (hopefully not in ways you don’t want to). You live, you learn, and the album tells the story of your evolving journey.
With the arrival of digital photos and photoshop, the possibilities to play with memories are endless. One of the ways we heal our memories is by photoshopping them. I want to offer some practical ways to photoshop memories, by making the choice for love over fear, by upgrading your information and awareness and reframing your memories. Of course it’s just an analogy, and an imperfect one, but it’s a visual starting point. You may prefer to think of a holograph rather than a still image, as memories are multilayered rather than flat, and dynamic rather than static. But here goes.
There are two important warnings.
- You can’t photoshop other peoples’ memories
There was an episode of the TV comedy The Office when Michael Scott got dumped for giving his girlfriend, Carol, a framed photograph of her, her two kids and a man on a ski trip. The man was him. He had photoshopped his own face in place of Carol’s ex husband. She was not amused.
You can’t deny other peoples’ experiences. When it comes to trauma, people work with their own memories and in their own time. You may be in someone’s life now, but this doesn’t change their past experiences. Positive or negative, don’t rob people of the chance to claim and heal their own memories.
2. Don’t mistake Photoshopping for denial.
Do you remember the famous “situation room” photograph taken while Obama and his team watched real time as Bin Laden was assassinated? In several versions of the photo that were published in religious journals, Hilary Clinton was photoshopped out of the photo, because they forbade printed images of women. While everyone has a right to their own beliefs, no one has a right to change history to accommodate their personal beliefs. That is denial and oppression. Whether its religious beliefs that deny rights to certain groups of people, or personal beliefs that are self limiting, denial is never a healthy option.
You don’t have a right to photo shop other people’s memories, but as long as you are careful not to mistake photoshopping for denial or manipulation, you have every right to photoshop your own memories. Each memory is surrounded by a context, a swirl of emotions, and a frame. Whatever happened, happened. But you decide what you are going to make it mean. The extent to which you let memories and emotions rule your life, and how you interpret memories, are both very much within your control.
Place and time are both powerful triggers for memories. The anniversary of momentous events are often crisis points, where memories flood back to your mind. Let it all happen. Let the memory be, without letting it control you. The big question is what you are going to make the memories mean. There are occasional events, such as 9/11 that are seared into the psyches of people around the world. The question is what we are ALL going to make 9/11 mean collectively.
Whether its 9/11 or any other memory, visualize your memories as if they are organized into albums. Certain memories can be moved into an album at the back of the closet called “Things that happened to me that will no longer define me.” Other memories can be moved into an album marked, “Memories that I will use to spark meaningful change in my life and in the world.” Still other memories may need to stay close to the front of closet and marked. “Memories that still spook me, but I am working to heal them and I’m making great progress.”
Whether your trigger dates are 9/11, 2/14 or 12/25, you have opportunities 24/7 to heal your life and move confidently forward. The best tribute you can offer people who have died innocently and tragically, and the best way you can honor those you have lost in the flames of life, is to claim the memories, heal them and make a choice to create the type of memories moving forward that will leave a legacy of love well beyond your life.
The willingness to hold space to heal difficult memories is the beginning of healing. It softens your perspective and expands your compassion for ALL.
Author Lewis Smedes, who wrote extensively about forgiveness said something profound that relates to 9/11 and all memories,
Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.