demolishing memory




fords fiat

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Steve Chapman in the Tribune has an excellent opinion piece about the rush to demolish the building where the NIU shootings took place recently. Here is a brief quote:
“You don’t squander $40 million to erase a memory that can’t be erased. Lots of places have witnessed nightmarish events. But we normally don’t punish the building.”
He then goes on to point out all of the places we didn’t demolish, from Ford’s Theater to Columbine, University of Texas and Virginia Tech. Lincoln’s assassination hasn’t prevented the ongoing use of Ford’s Theater in Washington (pictured at left). They rehabilitated the FIAT building in Motor Row, where 28 died five years ago in the E2 nightclub tragedy.
Anger at tragedy is understandable, but Chapman’s first sentence is key: demolishing the building won’t demolish the memories. In fact, you don’t want it to and many want a memorial. But memorials are cemeteries, not living places, and they give, as Chapman notes, a validity, a power to the undeserving perpetrator: “Don’t let a psychopath govern you from the grave.”
And don’t turn a workable building into a graveyard. Memorials have their place, as graveyards do. Far better, however, to do the difficult work of rehabilitation. We are rehabilitating a house right now where my wife’s sister and mother died less than a year ago. Some wanted the memories to go away, and of course we wanted the pain to go away but we saw the potential of the house and the need to make it new again, not to erase memories that cannot be erased. The memories abide, but the ghosts will not, nor will sorrow or past owners govern how and why we live in the house. I kept telling everyone I was trying to erase the history of the house, where my wife grew up for a decade, but I was wrong: I’m not trying to erase it. I’m opening a new chapter, making room for the next story, not dwelling on the past at all and not blaming a building for events it did not determine, anymore than I blame Ford’s Theater or the FIAT building. Seeing those two buildings today, rehabilitated, is a very positive experience.

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