"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.
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:
CHICAGO TEACHERS FEED 11,000 HUNGRY CHILDREN
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!
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?
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.