We all have moments that remain stark and fresh in our minds no matter how many years may pass.
Some of those moments are personal: The moment you hold your newborn child for the first time, look into its eyes and know you will never be the same person again. Or the moment you clasped your mother’s hand in yours as she passed from this life to the next and realized there would always be a hole in your heart where she had always been. Some of us have unspeakably painful memories of an event so awful that it took our breath away and made us feel like our hearts were breaking. Those are moments that made you a different person, moments that live in your heart. Moments stamped in startling clarity and incredible detail
But there are other moments shared by many that change us as well. Moments that are indelibly etched in our hearts and minds. If you are as old as my dad, you can still hear the echoes of FDR’s radio announcement of the day that would down in Infamy.” For my generation, we often ask each other, “Where were you when JFK was assassinated in Dallas?” I can’t answer for my dad, but I can most certainly answer exactly where I was on the day JFK died. I can “hear” the gasps that greeted the announcement over the school PA system and I will never forget the sound of clanging locker doors in halls where no words were spoken because we were all in shock. My daughter remembers the day the Challenger blew up because she was home from school due to illness and watching the launch on TV. Her disbelief is as strong now as it was when the replays of the disaster insisted the impossible had happened.
And now there is 9/11.
Each of us has private memories of that day. Some of us more poignant than others. For some it was personal – a loved one was on one of those planes, their mother worked in one of those offices, or their firefighter husband was in the tower when it collapsed. Or the woman whose husband left the message on her answering machine ending with “…I want you to know, I absolutely love you.” How she must have ached to have been home to tell him the same thing.
For each of us there are both personal and shared moments from that day that changed who we are as Americans. Watching the mushrooming cloud of dust and debris as the towers collapsed. The unbelievable horror of people jumping to their deaths. And in the days that followed, the images of firefighters and search dogs desperate to find survivors. Discouraged men and women, exhausted and filthy but not willing to give up. All those images and more are as fresh in our memories today as they were when they were happening. They were defining images that changed us all. Some young people who had never considered a life in the military were eager to enlist. Many installed flagpoles in their yards – people who had never flown flags before. Some people learned to pray that day. Others have never prayed since.
But these are the moments that make us or break us, as individuals and as a nation.