A lesson from the 9/11 memorial, which still does not exist

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The most conflicted memorial just got more conflicted. The New York Times reports that the relatives of those killed on 9/11 will not endorse the World Trade Center memorial plan unless the names of the dead are categorized by where they were working. Relatives don’t just want the company name, though. They want the tower and the floor as well.

Many people will ask, Why? In a time when defining yourself by your work is so unfashionable, why do people want to remember loved ones by where they were working?

As someone who was at the World Trade Center when the towers fell, I can tell you that the way people recover from a trauma like this is we retell the story over and over again. I have never heard someone tell a story about being there and not say where they were working.

For one thing, it tells where you started, which is the biggest factor in determining if you lived. For another thing, those of us who were there that day reassessed our lives, and for many, the idea of work changed. If someone almost dies at work, work needs to have a lot of meaning if you’re going to go back.

I cannot speak for the families who had someone die that day. But if the people who lived are obsessed with where they were working, then it seems reasonable that families of those who died would be obsessed too.

The memorial will probably end up listing the names exactly how the families want. And the memorial will be a reminder to everyone that most of us spend most of our time working. Trauma victims are not the only people who tell stories. Everyone does. So make your time at work matter because it will always be part of your story.

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