As Virginia Tech held its Commencement recently, the media once again started using the “c” word,
“closure”, the all too convenient word people use about moving on. Closure has become an amazingly
overused word in the face of tragic events, giving those who observe from afar a word for what others should do in the face of tragedy. Whether thinking about Oklahoma City, the events of September 11th or Virginia Tech, the closure word shows up constantly in our language. But perhaps closure is the wrong goal. It suggests that we “get over it” while the only goal you can really have is to “get used to it”. Perhaps this is why time is a major ingredient in healing.
I have always had a gut feeling that the whole closure thing was wrong, but it wasn’t until I heard
Ed Linethal’s talk The Predicament of Aftermath: Reflections on 9-11 and Oklahoma City that I understood the human reactions toward trauma and memorialization and the complex issues around dealing with a huge tragedy. Linenthal is Professor of History at Indiana University, Editor of the Journal of American History, and author of “The Unfinished Bombing: Oklahoma City in American Memory.”
In the past five years, I have watched all 429 videos that are published on MIT World, however no talk has influenced me more or stayed in my consciousness as much as this talk. Ed Linenthal has enabled many to understand the human response to tragic events and the impulse to memorialize innocent victims of horrific events. He documents with incredible insight and compassion, the unsolicited memorial response to the Oklahoma City bombing and details the development of what became the Field of Empty Chairs and other memorials at the bombing site. This talk was one of 13 of The Resilient City series sponsored by the Joint Program in City Design and Development, the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and the School of Architecture at MIT.
This is an incredibly insightful talk. I first watched it in 2002, and have watched it several times since. His deeper understanding of the human dimensions of memorial responses has given me a way to think, now about Virginia Tech, as it did during the year following September 11th.