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.