Defining Moments

I don’t have to remind anyone what today is. This morning, I watched the Fox News recap of their coverage, the exact same coverage I watched on September 11, 2001.  As I watched, an odd, unexpected flood of emotion came over me; it was the same flood of emotion I felt eight years ago, the single exception being lack of fear as I watched today. It’s no secret that the terrorist attacks of 9/11/2001 changed our lives, drastically in some ways.

I began to think later on about what historical events have defined my life. For my parents, three obvious generational benchmarks were the Kennedy and King assassinations and the Moon landing; for my grandparents, the Great Depression and World War II defined their generation. It’s strange how the negative moments are the ones we tend to see as historical benchmarks. For my generation, I thought of:

  • The murder of John Lennon: this is the first tragic death of a beloved celebrity that I really remember in my life. I remember Elvis’ passing, but it’s a less vivid memory. Although I wasn’t the massive Beatles’ fan then that I am now, I remember how deeply Lennon’s death affected people.
  • The attempted assassination of President Reagan: I remember coming home from school to my mom watching live news coverage of it. Of course, it was before the oversaturated 24/7 news cycle we have these days, so the coverage was urgent, almost suspenseful.
  • The Challenger disaster: This may not have affected me as much as it did had I not seen it live on TV. We were out of school for a snow day, and I was curled up on the sofa to watch the launch (that was back when NASA was at least a little bit interesting). Seeing a tragedy like that unfold live was pretty harrowing for a 13-year old.
  • The bombing at Centennial Olympic Park: That was a little too close to home for me; that’s why I remember it so vividly.
  • 9/11/2001: After the initial shock and fear that day, I pretty vividly remember the national unity and how baseball and college football were delayed. The patriotism and pride that emerged immediately after the events of that day were mixed with the fear and mourning. It was a strange mix of negative and positive emotion.

There were plenty of good things that happened for our generation too, so I wonder: why do we remember the negative events as those that define our generations? I think it’s because when the good things happen, we tend to take them for granted; we tend to see them as just part of our lives. But the negative events tend to shake us at our emotional foundation; they make us pause, think, and even grieve. Sometimes it takes the negative moments to make us appreciate the good things…