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ISSUE 119 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/17/2006

Lecture addresses proper grief

By Stephanie Soucheray
Variety Editor

Friday, March 17, 2006

Last Thursday, Professor Richard B. Miller of Indiana University’s religious studies department gave a lecture entitled "Beyond Madness and Self-Deception after 9/11: Memory, Witness, and Lamentation." Miller addressed many issues in the 90-minute lecture, including American politics, grief, ethical ways to remember and the long-term effects of Sept. 11 on the American psyche.

Next September will mark the five-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and the plane crash in Pennsylvania. Americans have what Miller calls a "duty to mourn," grounded in "the justice we feel out of respect for the dead." In the last five years, Americans have had to figure out the proper way to deal with their grief, and they will continue to grapple with this issue in the future.

Miller finds the key to proper mourning and memorializing of the terrorist attacks in the Biblical example of Lamentations. Miller joked that, for a religion professor, he does not often turn to the Bible when he does not know how to deal with a situation, but after Sept. 11, the Book of Lamentations provided a lesson on grief.

In Lamentations, the Israelites question God after He destroys their home. They take time to reflect on the tragedy and ask God if there was anything they did to deserve such punishment. America could use such a time of self-reflection before memorializing Sept. 11 in an insincere or rash way, or letting our grief dictate our politics, Miller suggested.

Miller criticized both the left and the right in their political handling of grief after Sept. 11. The right took a "Homeric approach to dealing with the tragedy," and though Miller believes the war in Afghanistan was justified politically, he said that the larger war on terror is a reactive and negative way of dealing with grief. The left entertained what Freud called the melancholia approach to grief; they blamed themselves wholly for the tragedy which rendered them inactive and self-doubting. Neither approach is desirable, Miller said.

Throughout the lecture, Miller showed a Power Point presentation filled with familiar images from Sept. 11: people jumping out of the towers, a smoking pentagon, dust-covered crowds on the Brooklyn Bridge and a stunned President George W. Bush reading to first-graders in Florida. Miller used these images to explore how we as a country will choose to visually remember Sept. 11.

Miller believes the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., is a proper exercise in memory, grief and lamentation, saying its granite allows the viewers to look at themselves in the names of the dead, and that is a duty we all must serve.

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