When something significant such as national triumph or tragedy occurs, it tends to paint a permanent picture in your mind. I’m American, so the things that I can recall as if they happened yesterday are things that happened in my homeland. I remember precisely where I was on September 11, 2001 and what I was doing. I remember watching the fallout of the Columbine High School shootings. Gosh, I even remember exactly where I was when I learned Elvis had died, and that was more of a pop-culture shock than anything else. It was news.
Recently, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger marked its 25^th anniversary. This tragedy was significant in so many ways. The crew included, for the first time, a school teacher. Because of the educational aspect of it, more children around the country were watching the event take place than perhaps ever before. It was a live event witnessed just as it happened — not filtered — to a vast audience. It also highlighted a huge failure on the part of NASA, and many believe it was the beginning of the end of space shuttle missions.
I was in college at the time of the explosion, and I happened to be taking a Journalism course. It certainly became a real-life lesson in the field of reporting. We were all gathered in an auditorium to hear about the coverage by a local city newspaper and our own college publication. The dichotomy of “teacher” and “student” was interesting, I admit. We were to ask questions about their coverage, sources, fact-checking, etc. The big “ooh” and “ahh” moment came when the professionals were only able to get a black and white cover photograph, while the college paper was able to secure a color version, much to the chagrin of the professional editor.
I was bothered that the “news” wound up being a competition of coverage between two newspapers, and that the actual tragic event somehow got lost. I know it was a journalism lesson, but that’s when I realized that a hard reporting profession probably wasn’t for me. I love to write, but separating myself from the event itself wasn’t my forte.
I wouldn’t have been able to report on 9/11, either. Instead, I sat there in shock glued to my television set with a one-month old baby in my lap and a husband stuck in Canada because he couldn’t get past the tightly-secured border. I remember many other major events in my lifetime, both large scale and more personal. Sometimes I even “remember” events that I wasn’t alive to witness personally, I’ve just heard about them so many times it feels as though others’ recollections are my own.
Untimely deaths of various famous people, grand finishes in major competitions, unthinkable tragedies, shocking scandals, historical achievements — all of these have a “Remember when?” feel to them, and all have embedded themselves in our personal history. What are some of your own life-altering memories?