But yhtbt has actually been in my life far longer than even my cell phone number, which, crazy as it may seem, has been the same for over 20 years since I got my first ‘bag phone’ (literally in its own sort of mini suitcase) for emergency use only.
Yhtbt. It was one of my dad’s favorite phrases–my dad who passed away eight years ago, but who was far ahead of his time in terms of texting lingo–dwind (recited letter by letter, not pronounced), ‘Dad’s work is never done’ was another of his favorites, as was MRA, moving right along–what he liked to say to my mom when he was ready to leave a party or thought it was time for her to be done chit-chatting with friends.
But of all of my dad’s shortened phrases, yhtbt is my definite favorite. Yhtbt. You had to be there.
The usage could vary–perhaps it would be, in recounting a story, a shorthand way of saying ‘well, you’re not really going to get this since you weren’t at the event, yhtbt.’ Or it would be a way of sharing the moment with someone who was there–yhtbt, and we were.
But what I think I love most about it is this idea that, to really experience something, to really know it, you had to be there. But somehow, that needing to be there did not preclude the equal need to share the story about it even if you were not. There’s no substitute for ‘being there’ but, knowing that, I’m still going to tell you the story, I’m still going to remember…
Remembering is exactly what we, as a nation and as Americans, have ritualized onto this day, today, September 11.
For me, the ‘remembering’ actually begins a day early, on September 10, as that is the day my dad, the author of yhtbt, at least in the bodily physical sense, no longer was. He died at home, surrounded by close family friends, and with my mom and me by his side. We watched him breathe his last breath, and were there for what seemed to be a literal seeing his ‘spirit’ leave his body. We breathed that moment together. It was sacred and beautiful and unbelievably painful, all at the same time. yhtbt.
I too remember where I was on the morning of September 11, 2001. A student at Princeton Theological Seminary, I had decided to go to the darkroom early that morning to develop some film and print some images. I don’t remember why I took a break from my work, only that I did, with apron on and with eyes still adjusting to the light, I got in the basement elevator. There was someone else in the elevator, and she was crying. I asked her what was wrong, if she was okay. “I just have such a hard time with things like this,” she answered. I tried to be comforting, but had no idea what she was talking about.
That is, until I got out of the elevator and saw the others who had gathered in front of a tv screen in the lobby of Templeton Hall. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, as I had happened upon the events as they had already begun to unfold. It was, in a word, surreal. I quickly left the building to call my parents, a three hour time zone away, traveling through Seattle in their motor home. My call woke them up as I gave them the news of what had happened, and let them know that, though I had been in the city only three days before, on the Staten Island Ferry with the twin towers in the background of my group photo, I was okay. It was a day of many phone calls, many such stories, many, of course, that were sacred, beautiful, and unbelievably painful, all at the same time. yhtbt.
Remembering matters. Telling and retelling the stories of our lives matters.
That is the beauty of ritual in religious traditions such as Judaism, which, in a few days, will enter into such a time of remembering beginning with Rosh Hashanah and culminating in Yom Kippur. In the Christian tradition we remember, or re-member, every time we participate in the Lord’s Supper–the Eucharist, a communion, a coming together as one body. It is a sacrament–a visible sign of that which is invisible. We remember. yhtbt.
It can be easy, perhaps, to wonder why we need to ‘rehash’ events that have passed–we tend, in our society, to live at a pace that often suggest that we should just ‘get over’ that which has been and move on. MRA, as my dad would have said it.
But I think we need to take the time and the space for the ‘yhtbt’ as well. You had to be there. But let me tell you again, what it was like… Let me tell you again, about the time… Let me tell you about the one who I lost… Let me tell you about where I was, who I was with… And in doing so, let us help one another to re-member, to find healing, wholeness, as we share the journeys of our lives.
yhtbt. and i was.