For me, having missed the Kennedy assassination by just a couple years, the big news story I always identified with “where were you when” was the Challenger space shuttle disaster. Our school was following the Challenger flight pretty closely as it was the first space shuttle to take a school teacher along. Over 11,000 teachers applied and even though it wasn’t our teacher that made it, it opened the door of possibilities that not just astronauts can go to outer space. I was actually in astronomy class (believe it or not) when a student came running through the science wing shouting the news into each class room and we all just sat there stunned – teacher included – by the news. There was an element of disbelief until the announcement came over the PA system. Nothing else happened that day, we didn’t continue on to our next classes when the bell rang, but clustered around radios to listen to the news reports. My husband, who was already been in college at that time, had no recognition of all that happening and placed no life-memory importance on it. Perhaps it was regional, perhaps it was because I was still in high school and the school placed importance on it where a college likely wouldn’t. Anyone else remember that?
September 11th. Nothing regional about that. It’s not just the people in New York, DC or Pennsylvania that remember. It’s not just the people who work in the airline industry or the WTC or the Pentagon who remember. It’s not even limited to the US in the impact it had on peoples’ lives from the macro to the micro.
I was living in Florida at the time and I was working for a military weapons manufacturer. I saw someone run past my office down to the CEO’s office – they’d heard it on the radio and ran down to his office because he had a small black and white TV. Before I could even get out from behind my desk to see what was going on, three more people went running by. When I got down there, the grainy rabbit-eared picture on the screen was showing the picture of the first tower burning and before anyone could explain what had happened, the second tower was hit right before our eyes. A state of shock… but only for a moment. We quickly turned to each other and did a management risk-assessment. We manufacture weapons for the military, President Bush was just up the road from us visiting his brother Jeb who was beginning to campaign for his second 4-year term as Governor and we honestly wondered if we could be in a convenient target area. We didn’t really give it much weight, but after the Pentagon and Pennsylvania, we began to wonder if we should have.
The boys were 1st grade and preschool at the time. I asked them this morning if they had any independent memories from that day (versus memories of what they’ve been told) and they were just too young. Derek, who was older, remembers that they gathered all the kids to the center of the school court yard to tell them what had happened and the following year they had a memorial and sang a song at that same spot. For Quinn, in preschool, they probably didn’t say anything to the kids at all.
It’s interesting how every generation has that “something” that they identify with of remembering where they were what a particular thing happened. Perhaps it was President Reagan being shot, perhaps it was Hurricane Katrina hitting the Gulf, perhaps it was Apollo 11 landing on the Moon – there are many memorable news events to identify with over the years and generations, but September 11th stands in a rare and exclusive category.
I asked the boys, now teenagers, if there has been a news story in their lifetime that they identify with in this way and they both said there really wasn’t anything. Part of me was relieved that, with the way the media places importance on things that aren’t really important, that they didn’t answer something like “Michael Jackson’s death” or “Lindsay Lohan’s arrest” but the other part of me recognized that we can be quite certain that it will be something – something that has yet to happen – that will be ever burned in their memories as the day their perception of the world or society we live in changed forever.