Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Highlighting the Low Moments

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9-11-12, a set on Flickr.

After attending yesterday's 9/11 memorial services at Fire Station No. 3, we visited for a short while with the firefighters and police in attendance.  For a moment, everyone knew each other.  Everyone held this moment in common.  Conversation held one question in common; where were you when the towers were hit?  As we shared our stories, I found myself thinking of the national low moments in our personal histories.  We all recognized that these are the things that hold us together as a unified people.

For me, the first memory is a memory I hold for my father.  He was at Pearl Harbor and was stationed on the USS Nevada.  As you know, the Nevada was tied right next to the USS Arizona.  This moment in history is my history.  When I consider that it was only a matter of a few feet making the difference on which ship was hit, it is sobering to know that had the Nevada been hit, in all likelihood, I would not be here writing this.  My children would not be here contributing to making this a good society.  My husband might be a very different man today.  How striking to consider what a difference a matter of just a few feet made.

Growing up in the Cold War Era, many of us remember duck and cover.  The threat of nuclear war was very real.  My first personal memory of the fear and loathing of war was April 17, 1961, the Bay of Pigs Invasion in Cuba.  I was 13 years old and living in San Diego, CA.  My dad was retired from the Navy by then and we often went to Miramar Naval Air Station located not far from us.  Low flying jets (remember Top Gun?) and sonic booms were a normal part of our daily life.  But on that April day I was just a 13 year old girl and I remember driving by MNAS, seeing more that the usual complement of jets circling and thinking "Do we have enough water?  We need to get water."  Water.  The ultimate symbol of life.  While we stood poised on the abyss of a show down with the old USSR, I was worried about water.  Looking back, it seems a pretty decent symbol to bring to the table because questions of life and death were pretty clear cut back then.  No water?  No life.  Nuclear Bomb? No life.  There really wasn't much difference between the two.

Two years later, in 1963, I was four days passed my 15th birthday.  November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated.  I was in 10th grade in high school and was just out of my history class with Mr. Rochambeau (the to die for history teacher that all the girls had a crush on).  The halls and corridors were filled with crying students and I had not heard the news.  It didn't take long for me the learn what had happened.  I don't remember much after that.  I DO remember that I felt frozen.  I didn't cry.  I didn't GET the importance of what had happened.  I don't remember if school continued that day or not.  It was a very confusing event.  Shocking.  Our leader was gone.  I still look back on that day and can't grasp any real feeling.  Perhaps it was really one of those moments that transcends feeling.

Four years later, I was 18 years old.  Virgil Ivan Grissom (April 3, 1926 – January 27, 1967), (  Lt. Col, USAF), better known as Gus Grissom, was one of the original NASA Project Mercury astronauts and a Unite State Air Forcepilot. He was the second American to fly in space, and the first member of the NASA Astronaut Corps to fly in space twice.  Gus was also my favorite astronaut of all time.  He still is.  From Sputnik to now, I watched all the space launches.  For a while, I wanted to be an astronaut.  I wanted to fly to the moon.

Grissom was killed along with fellow astronauts Ed White and Roger Chaffee during a pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (then known as Cape Kennedy), Florida. He was the first of the Mercury Seven to die. He was also a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross and, posthumously, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

Then in January, 1986 the space shuttle Challenger disintegrated during launch.  We lost our first civilian in space, teacher Christe McAuliffe.  I was 39 years old and sitting in the front room in our small apartment in married student housing.  After seeing countless lauches, I watched the Challenger disintegrated with millions of other Americans.  I remember sitting on the floor.  I was leaning against the sofa and I remember having one of those "What?" moments.  I remember cocking my head to the right.  I remember watching the reruns over and over.  And, I remember it finally sinking in and crying.

I cried again on February 1, 2003 when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated upon reentry into our atmosphere.  We lost seven astronauts that day including one from India and one from Israel.  And finally, I mourned when the space shuttle program ended in 2011. 

The 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1995 Oklahoma bombing  and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole live in my memory.  And what I hope is the bookend to tragedy, September 11, 2001.

From Pearl Harbor to 9/11, I hold so many low points in my heart.  Yesterday I prayed that 9/11 would be the bookend to Pearl and would hold these memories tight with none more being added.  This morning I awoke to the news that the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed by mobs rioting on the grounds of the American Embassy.  This just a day after the mob riots in Egypt at the American Embassy there.  There really is nothing you can say about this that political talking heads won't try to explain, excuse,  twist or God help us, apologize over. 

So - as I look at my pictures from yesterday and think of the shared memory of strangers who for a moment were not strangers, I can't help but wonder how I manage to keep in mind that I don't want to be a stranger to the world but really - I don't have any idea of how to accomplish that anymore. 


Meri said...

This is a sobering reminder of the low points, all of which I share with you. These are times that call for reflection and an urge toward peace.

GrandmaK said...

I remember so very clearly events that have touched me too. I can recall where I was in each of them. It brought e back to where I was in 1967 when we all heard about the death of Virgil Grissom. I had bee sitting at y desk in the dorm and found myself unexpectedly crying in the loss, just as I do today. And the joy replaces the sadness when I recall how we all came together to pray for him and his family. Thank you for bringing this home to me again! Cathy

Pam said...

A fitting tribute Annie.It would take too much here in the comments to go into where I was when these events happened but they will always be poignant memories of being aghast that with each act of violence, families suffer terribly through the loss of loved ones.

rebecca said...

yes, there are so many defining moments in ones life. i am re reading your parting thought, " i don't want to be a stranger to the world" and i can only say this can be accomplished one moment at a time. seeing connection and opening our hearts, being a part of the house of belonging.
yes, the challenges are great, but love is profoundly greater.

on a personal father was career navy and i too grew up in san diego! our "duck and covers" had moved on past the cold war and were strictly for earthquake drills!

foxysue said...

On the other side of the pond I too shared those moments, I'm glad we are not strangers, we have shared memories of belonging too in our circle of friends. Love to you. xxx

Stephanie said...

Such a powerfully written post Annie. On Tuesday, in my yoga class we talked of dedicating our practice to peace. That's really all any of us can do. Live each moment mindfully and with peace in our hearts. One person at a time so that none of us are strangers.

(Queenmothermamaw) Peggy said...

Indeed a beautiful well written piece. Thanks for sharing. As old as I am I have seen and felt many low times, as we all do no matter the age. Only faith and hope could have ever gotten we through them. We share a sister/brotherhood with our world.Blessings

Jeanie said...

What a thoughtful and eloquent post, Annie. Isn't it interesting -- all these huge things happened when we were very young, like the Kennedy assassination and we knew they were something but we didn't know what. Maybe it was better that we didn't know what. I remember on 9/11 having dinner with a group of Japanese visiting our town and of course, there were emotional parallels with WWII, terror for their colleagues in the area. We're under the flight path to the airport and the sky was so quiet. Kevin came by -- he was 12 and he didn't get it. I remember Rick saying to him, "This changes almost everything." Now he knows why.