Where Were You?

I was sitting in my fifth grade classroom, on top of my desk, when I watched the Challenger explode in a ball of smoke and flame just minutes after takeoff from Cape Canaveral.  My teacher had wheeled a television into the classroom so that our impressionable young minds could see the historic event as the first woman teacher went into space.  No one could have predicted the indelible mark that such an event would have on those of us in that classroom.  We would remember it forever. 

Sitting in my grandparents’ family room, I was captivated by a white Ford Bronco leading a motorcade of police on a chase along the freeways of Los Angeles.  The weeks that followed would make Kato Kaelin, Mark Fuhrman, and Robert Shapiro household names.  OJ Simpson would no longer be best known for his brilliant football career. 

I got misty-eyed when I watched Dan Jansen finally win his gold in Lillehammer, amidst personal tragedy, and cried with gymnast Kerri Strug as Coach Bela Karolyi carried her off the mat after clinching a gold medal for her team by competing on a badly hurt ankle in Atlanta in 1996.

Just months ago, my four children and I awakened at 2:00 in the morning and snuggled together on the couch to see the Royal Wedding televised live from across the pond in London.  We watched intrigued by the pomp and circumstance with which the event was carried out, learned about the long-standing traditions engrained in the actions of English royalty, laughed together at silly hats and ohhhed at the beauty and elegance of Kate Middleton.

Some memories just stay with us.  And they bind us together in time, friends and strangers alike.  Its funny how the details of certain days are etched so clearly in my mind; what I was wearing, where I was, what the weather was like, who I was with.  A snapshot forever frozen in time as if it had just happened yesterday. 

I was not around for the assassination of JFK.  I didn’t live through a world war or the Great Depression.  I didn’t watch the first man walk on the moon.  I have never known war on American soil or had to ration milk and gasoline.  Sure, I have been aware of other “conflicts” that our country has been involved in during my lifetime but they were far away and personally affected no one that I knew.  I do have one memory, though, that probably unites me with each of you. 

It was one of those early fall mornings when the air is just starting to bring a chill.  I had sent my husband out the door to work.  My three year old was watching Calliou on tv and the baby was playing on a blanket on the floor.  I had just gotten out of the shower and was towel-drying my hair when the ruckus started in the next room.  Running in to investigate, I was met with a sight that left me puzzled at best.  My toddler was upset because his show had disappeared, to be replaced with an image of the Twin Towers in New York and the voice of a frantic Peter Jennings.  At first I didn’t understand what was happening; it seemed like a scene from a movie and I was reminded of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.  As the macabre story unfolded on the screen over the next few hours and cameras cut from the smoking World Trade Center to a gaping hole in the Pentagon to a burning plane in a Pennsylvania field and back to the toppling Twin Towers, my blood ran cold and fear set up camp in my heart.  I scooped my eight-month-old daughter to my chest, sank to the floor and wondered at the world my babies would grow up in.  America was changed forever on that day.  We all were. 

Living in Idaho, I wasn’t concerned for my immediate safety.  The view outside my window was a calm lovely day with a brilliant blue sky.  I remember exactly how that sky looked.  But I knew where that horror was taking place.  I had visited New York; I had walked those very streets now filled with distraught, hurting people covered in the ash and debris of shattered security.  This terror wasn’t happening in a far-off land but in my own America and in places I had been.  I spent the entire day in my robe in that room, watching that story unfold as my hair dried and I cried. 

The following weeks and months would introduce new vocabulary into the daily conversations of Americans everywhere.  Words like Al Qaida, Kabul, Afghanistan, Taliban and I.E.D were heard everywhere. 

And then the months turned into years.

Today, the events of 9/11 mean that the average American has to plan extra time at the airport to go through security.  That could be the only noticeable difference.   Those two towers look oddly out of place in my 1995 photos of the New York skyline.
My oldest son has no recollection of that horrible day in front of the tv.   But I don’t want it that way. 

While it is true that I don’t want my son forever traumatized by the disturbing images of airplanes crashing into buildings, terrified individuals jumping out of office windows to their deaths, and panicked people running through the streets screaming and crying inconsolably, I also don’t ever want him to forget. 

With approximately 1,000 World War II veterans dying every day in this country and the ease and abundance that we enjoy here, I want my children to know that it wasn’t always this way.   I want them to appreciate the sacrifices made by others for them to have their lives of peace and plenty in this great land of America.  I want them to respect and feel a reverence for every police officer, fireman and soldier that they see.

I encourage you to take advantage of Patriots Day (9/11), Constitution Day (9/17) and Veterans Day (11/11) to remember.  And to teach those too young to remember.  After all, those historic events bind us all together as Americans.  Where were you?


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- Kresta