When we're faced with the unfathomable, can keeping a journal or documenting memories help us along?
Ten years after that September day that began with glorious sunshine and ended with black skies and unfathomable loss, we remember. But how can we manage memories so large, so heavy-laden? This Friday an extraordinary group will gather at The Morgan Library & Museum to talk about memory, pain, community, and the 9/11 anniversary. Please join us as we consider how keeping journals—documenting our memories and, if we choose to, sharing them—can provide both a private outlet and a lasting tribute to those we lost.
We’ll hear from Bill Keegan, who commanded a Port Authority Police Special Operations rescue and recovery team at the World Trade Center after 9/11. Month after grueling month he and his team worked in the pit, face to face with death and destruction, committed to recovering the remains of the fallen. His post-9/11 journal is on view in the Morgan exhibition The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives, alongside the manuscript notes that Walt Whitman kept over a century before as he visited dying soldiers during the American Civil War, lamenting the loss of so much beautiful life. Like Whitman, Keegan published an account of the personal experience he documented in his journal, but he’s gone a step (a BIG step) beyond sharing memory. Keegan founded H.E.A.R.T. 9/11, a group of highly skilled volunteers (veterans of the NYPD, FDNY, and PAPD; EMTs, nurses, doctors and trade union members). Many once worked together at ground zero, gaining invaluable experience responding to cataclysmic events; now they travel around the country and the world to help rebuild communities after disasters such as the recent earthquake in Haiti. (You can hear Bill talk about the organization’s work here).
And we’ll hear from Mary Fetchet, a clinical social worker who lost her 24-year-old son Brad on 9/11. Like Bill Keegan, she drew on her own experience—a mother’s pain and loss—and became a powerhouse of positive community-building activity. She is the founding director of Voices of September 11th, an organization that provides information and a wide range of support services for 9/11 families, rescue workers and survivors. Recognizing the power of personal memory, VOICES launched the 9/11 Living Memorial Project, a digital archive that commemorates lives lost and documents the stories of survivors. The over 60,000 photographs, letters, eulogies, and other mementos collected by VOICES will become a core component of the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. (You can see Mary here on MSNBC discussing with Martin Bashir the emotions stirred up after the killing of Osama Bin Laden.)
Of course it was a young girl—Anne Frank—who, more than any other diary-keeper, impressed on all of us the emotional value of writing down the private side of hardship, and who (unwittingly) turning an agonizing personal story into a source of positive inspiration. On May 13 we also welcome Maureen McNeil, Director of Education at the Anne Frank Center USA, who has used Anne Frank’s diary as a catalyst to encourage children, prisoners, and countless others to write for personal healing and empowerment.
Finally, we’ll have a chance to visit the exhibition The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives and see firsthand how people have, for centuries, turned to private journals in order to document their days, sort out creative problems, help them through crises, comfort them in solitude or pain, or preserve their stories for the future. With journals kept by Napoleon’s battlefield surgeon, a woman interned by the Nazis during World War II, and many others, the exhibition illustrates how such journals bridge time and experience in their expression of love, death, loss, and joy.
We hope you'll join us for this special evening! To reserve a FREE space for the May 13 event at the Morgan focusing on 9/11 and journal-keeping, call 212.685.0008, ext. 560, or email [email protected]. The event is co-organized by Voices of September 11th, H.E.A.R.T. 9/11, The AnneFrankCenterUSA, and The Morgan Library & Museum.
Photograph of Anne Frank: @AFS/AFF, Amsterdam/Basel.