Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Where Were You...?

This sounds like the start of a parlor game. Where were you on such and such a date? It is kind of a parlor game but with a more serious intent. This game falls into two distinct parts: personal and global memories.

Personal memories are the seminal events in the life of a family. You never have to ask a mother where she was when her children were born. She was kinda there, kinda involved with the delivery. Dads of previous generations, not so involved. Births, deaths and weddings fill up books and calendars, but not too many in a family can really say where they were when they heard about the birth or death of a relative. It's just the way it is. We note the date, send cards and gifts. And we are pretty much done.

Global memories are different. Depending on the generation, people remember when events of global or national importance happened. The Greatest Generation can tell you to the second what they were doing on Sunday, December 7, 1942. They can tell you what they did immediately afterwards, because many of the men and boys enlisted the next Monday.

Adults of the next generation know what they were doing on November 22, 1963. Even more than sixty years later, I still remember what I was doing and how I felt when I heard that President Kennedy had been assassinated. This couldn't happen. No one in the modern era imagined that one man could throw the nation into a tailspin, out of which the citizens found a new patriotism, a new willingness to work together for a common good.

Neil Armstrong walking on the moon and the Challenger explosion frame the space age. One good, one terrible. Both led to national pride, renewed patriotism. The moon walk may have resulted in working together for the common good. Not so the Challenger tragedy. After the grief healed, we as a nation went back to our old ways.

Fast forward to the current generation. Will its seminal moment be 9/11? Not everyone can recall the year this happened, but the date is part of the national psyche, our national vocabulary. We drew together as a nation and as a member of the world community. Flags blossomed from porches for a while. Heads of state in Europe said we were all Americans. It took 19 men and three airplanes to reawaken our national pride and willingness to work together.

So will this be the seminal event for the current generation? I hope not, because after that tragedy the nation plunged into financial darkness, divisiveness in government and in our neighborhoods, suspicion of anyone whose beliefs are different or who look different "from me" and a renewed demand that we be a nation governed by values. Like gun owning. Like telling women what to do with their reproductive tracts. Like telling the poor they really don't count. Like telling the rich that they do.

Is this the memory we want our children to take away? I sure as hell hope not.


Brenda Marroy said...

Good post Betsy. I do remember where I was for most of the events you mentioned.
When tragedy strikes our country, we come together as one in order to effect healing.But like the body, once the wound heals all the parts go back to doing what they normally do.

Betsy Ashton said...

I agree, Brenda. Wouldn't it be great is we could keep the positive momentum going, instead of behaving like we "normally" do?

J. R. Nova said...

For my money, 9/11/2001 (I remember the year!) is the only seminal event for this generation. All of the positive things that could have made for really great events, like the birth of the internet, have more or less come in stages. There wasn't "that moment" like there was for the moon landing or MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech, or the end of World War II.

I have met very few people who don't recall what they were doing on 9/11. Most people I talk to about it remember the day vividly, and more than a few who were nowhere near New York and didn't know anyone who died, still have some residual trauma remaining even ten and a half years later.

Betsy Ashton said...

JR, I remember all the way back to Kennedy. (Yes, I remember dinosaurs, too.) I agree that the great events like the birth of the Internet go without us being able to celebrate it. And after these huge tragic events have a lingering impact. Too many of my friends still suffer some sort of depression or effects of trauma to this day. We will get over it, because we will never forget it.