There are events in our lives we never forget. The good events live on, are embellished and sometimes become the memories of those who never truly experienced them. We work very hard at remembering the good events in our lives, we collect them and weave them into stories of who we really are.
The bad events are never forgotten. November 22, 1963, was a day all of us in our middle years remember vividly. I was in Mrs. Barter’s 6th grade math class, which was supposed to be science but never was. Mrs. Barter was called out of the room for several minutes, not even long enough for the class to misbehave. When she returned, she said there had been a horrible event and wrote the word “assassination” in her perfect script, centered on the black board.
I can remember thinking it was one of those really big words, like Mississippi or supercalifragilistic, but it looked evil. It had the word “ass,” which we all knew was unspeakable, but there it was, in Mrs. Barter’s own handwriting, filling our room with a silence that haunts me today.
Then there was May 4, 1970 . . . Kent State. I had been to Kent State for Little Sister’s weekend in 1962. It was a fun place; we sledded on cafeteria trays and had popcorn with my sister’s friends and their little sisters. Someone played a piano, and we sang and danced. I even dreamed of going there someday. What happened at Kent State was an event that altered my memories. No longer did I want to go there. It wasn’t safe; it wasn’t fun. . . . It had turned evil.
In my later years I worked with a man only three years older than myself. He had been one of the infamous National Guardsman and was a mere 20 years old at the time. He shared with me his fears, a side of the story the press never published. I always thought the Guardsmen were older “adults” trying to straighten out a mess, but they were the same age as the students . . . and very much afraid.
Our parents and grandparents had Pearl Harbor in 1941. We were taught that this event was truly unthinkable; we became so well versed in Pearl Harbor that it became part of us. Then today, September 11, 2001, an event so horrific that the true impact may take several months to be realized, if ever. Maybe 9/11/01 is what Pearl Harbor was to our parents: a mixture of anger, sadness, helplessness, confusion and reality. Today is a day I will never forget. Every detail, every thought.
I was scheduled to fly to Atlanta on business. Normally I would take a 7 a.m. flight, but this trip was a 12:40 p.m. flight. I had planned on leaving from home for the airport, a routine trip, four meetings between today and tomorrow, then back to Cleveland, back to work in the Key Tower. My biggest concerns when traveling were missing a plane, getting lost while driving in a strange city and finding enough time to fit in a meal. If I was lucky I would be upgraded to First Class . . . I was guaranteed a meal in First Class.
But today wasn’t routine. Today will be remembered as the day the United States was attacked. Attacked by terrorists who believed a kamikaze mission awarded them immediate access to heaven. Why are there people who believe taking innocent lives will give them a free ticket to the promised land, when the rest of us see them rotting in Hell? How could right and wrong have such diverse meanings? All day I watched the events unfold. I watched the second plane crash into the World Trade Center, I watched the towers collapse, the Pentagon in flames, people running from the debris of shattered lives and dreams. It was a scene that belonged in a foreign country, not here, not the USA. I called family members to make sure they were “safe.” I called my brother, who works for United Airlines, and all he could say was, “it was two of our planes.” “Our planes,” a personal attachment, like our car or our house. “Our planes” are suppose to be safe. “Our planes” are suppose to take people places they want to go . . . not places they don’t want to go.
Right now, the victims are nameless. People in the wrong place at the wrong time. But tomorrow and the next day and more days after that the names will be matched, and we will find family, friends and acquaintances, gone forever. We will be left desperately trying to remember the good events we had, because the bad events are never forgotten.