Monday, September 11, 2006

There Comes a Reckoning Every So Often in History.

"Where were you on this day?"
Many of my students asked me this today, and I shared the last entry with them (from my actual journal). A tiny bug of inspiration bit me, and as today passed, I realized a pattern in our country: each generation has an event that marks and defines them.

Dear Diary,
It has been a hard winter, and spring is not looking any better. Ever since the stock market crashed on October 29, 1929. “Black Tuesday” they call it. Dad tried to keep the house and farm, but the weather turned against us. Now we’ve got nothing. We’ve been driving for weeks now – headed to California. There’s eight of us left. Grandpa died last night. It made me sad, but Momma said he was smiling and talking to angels. He was talking about mashed potatoes and gravy. That made me so hungry. Most towns we go through are real nice – they’ve got soup lines set up, and they don’t mind feeding us, as we’re on our way to California.

We read this headline as we went through Chicago:

Dear Diary,
I am still in shock. We all sat, glued to the radio, as President Roosevelt declared that the day would “live on in infamy.” How did this happen? Why did the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor? I still cry when I see the pictures that were in the newspaper. All those poor men that were still sleeping on the U.S.S. Arizonia…..I wonder if they woke up? I wonder if they just died in their sleep. Momma says I shouldn’t speak like that, but I can’t help it. Frankie went and signed up for the army. He said he just felt like he had to do it. Katie left yesterday for San Francisco. She’s gonna be a Rosey Riveter – she’s gonna help build battleships! Can you believe it? A girl building battleships!

Dear Diary,
He was so young. We thought of him, a King (a young and handsome one), and of D.C., Camelot. Our royalty. Our future – the “New Frontier.” And now, our frontier has been striped – shot dead in Dallas. I remember seeing him and Jackie in that limo, smiling and waving…… I am so sad, it’s hard to move…..but I found comfort in Earl Warren’s eulogy:
It has been said that the only thing we learn from history is that we do not learn. But surely we can learn if we have the will to do so. Surely there is a lesson to be learned from this tragic event.
If we really love this country, if we truly love justice aqd mercy, if we fervently want to make this Nation better for those who are to follow us, we can at least abjure the hatred that consumes people, the false accusations that divide us, and the bitterness that begets violence. Is it too much to hope that the martyrdom of our beloved President might even soften the hearts of those who would themselves recoil from assassination, but who do not shrink from spreading the venom which kindles thoughts of it in others?

Dear Diary,
I remember being on top of the World Trade Center. Erynn and I went to New York in 1999, and one our highlights was the trip to the top. We laughed as our ears popped on the way up in the elevator. We stood on the roof – looking out at clouds and the city. The kids’ jaws dropped when the tour guide told them that a dropped penny (from that height) would put a hole a foot deep in the sidewalk. The wind sounded like jump run – calling me to leap from the edge and fly. . I remember standing near the edge, and thinking, “What a base jump this would be!” I could fly high above these clouds – like a bird….like an angel.
And a mere sixteen months later, here I am -- numb most of the day. I stared at the TV, dumbfounded as the second plane flew into the tower, thinking that it had to be an instant replay – surely it wasn’t a second plane. I watched things falling from the sky, feeling faint as I realized that they were people – unable to fly, only fall. I tried to tune it out – but the day grew bleaker with each passing minute: a crash into the Pentagon, a Philadelphia field of tragic heroes, the towering giants seemingly imploding to the ground, sending cascading, billowing caustic clouds across the city.
I close my eyes, resting for a moment – but no rest is found as I continually find myself on top of that tower, wind calling me to leap and fly, and feeling the giant rumble beneath me as he starts to collapse, jarring me awake. And now the TV is showing people. People lining up to give blood. People wanting to know where to send donations. People wanting to help.

History teaches us nothing, except maybe that we often learn the same lesson over and over and over again. As I look at these events – these generational mile-markers, I’m touched by the devastating effect each had on their generation – and yet in hindsight, we, as a nation, we’re made stronger, wiser, by it.
--Yes, yes, mistakes were made by many during all these times – but that is not my focus, or my intent –

I just found it interesting…..and wanted to share it with you.


Lacquer, Semi-Gloss Lacquer said...

two things sort of stick out in my mind.
A year after the attacks I returned and was a docent at St.Pauls Chapel, and stood and explained a patchwork quilt that had the names, towns, and dates of all of those who died in the attacks on them.
-One guy came through and we found his wife's name... they talked for 45 minutes on her celphone before the building collapsed, (this was a miracle, -there was no cel-reception -the transmitters were knocked out for most of us.)
-a tiny Indian woman came with her sisters and parents and asked if her sister's name would be on the quilt '-even though she wasn't catholic.' We found her sister's name, and I remember these tiny fingers touching the name.
(A lot of people were simply never found.)
-but I just sat there thinking... I will never let another person think that they, -or anyone who they love cannot have their name in my church, on my lips, or on my heart -no matter what their beliefs are...

I'm glad you made it to Windows on the World.
---I never did...
(The Empire State Building is my girl, -and my little brother loves the Chrysler...)

thanks for writing what you wrote (both times.)

You can't see them, but they're there. They'll always be.
(and no you could have NOT BaseJumped them.. the drafts were wicked and would have killed you, darling, sorry the lower tip of Manhattan at that level is a cauldron of currents...)

Here's to happier milestones... 'k?

lime said...

weirdly i grew up only a couple hours from manhattan but never made it there until a year before the attacks. (philly is my city). i only saw thew towers in person one month before they fell. we had gone up the empire state building and decided we didn't need to go to the top of the towers. we'd do it another time. how odd.

when i watched them fall in real time i remember thinking, this is how my granparents, who had young children at the time, felt when they heard about pearl harbor. only i was glad they didn't have to watch live feed of it. and then i wondered, how will our generation react?

KFarmer said...

This is a time of great saddness for a lot of people. Do you think it will lesson over the years? The five have passed so quickly to me but I can still see the image-it's burned into my memory bank.

A very thoughtful post Jane-

rose_michelle said...

Very impactful. It kind of reminds you that no one is immune from tragedy. What amazes me most often is how Americans come together and overcome. That is what makes us different as a nation.

Lelly said...

...and thanks for sharing Jayne. You are a talented writer and clearly a wonderful teacher.

Now, when are we gonna get togther and go sharking for a new man for you?? (HOW much fun would that be?)