Markers in Time

November 22 is coming up. The date will take me back as it always does. That’s the big one for my generation. Every age has its great shock, that moment when something happens that stops people in their tracks. The date is marked for a lifetime, the moment locked in stark detail. Yours may be September 11. It’s likely you remember where you were when news came that an airliner had struck one of the World Trade Center buildings… 

By Harry Puncec

Perhaps you received a phone call from someone watching the live broadcast of a burning tower. I did.  Whatever you were doing was forgotten as you urgently tried to learn more. You spend the rest of the day absorbing the immense reality.  On 9/11/2001 there were people on those planes and in those buildings, and they were dying.  It was almost incomprehensible.

A Sunday afternoon across America was like that for your great-grandparents on a December day long ago.  For them it was a somber voice over the radio announcing that a United States military base in the Pacific had been bombed!  It was seismic.  December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” That sunny day suddenly became Day One, for us in World War Two. For those who heard the news, the moment when it was heard became a lifetime memory.

It happens.  We get comfortable with how things are and are looking away when “stuff” happens.  I was loading copy on a camera board at work when Johnny came in and said John F. Kennedy – our President – had been shot.  My first words were, “That’s not funny.” No, it was tragic. It was November 22, 1963 and for my generation that was the moment that we remember in stark clarity, exactly where we were.

The nation reeled!  For three days we all watched TV as all the channels were on the story.  No commercials and the reporters struggled to avoid breaking down in tears.  By the day of JFK’s funeral we thought we were emotionally drained. Then John Jr., the President’s son, saluted. We lost it.

Photo by UPI photographer Stan Stearns. JFK Jr. saluting as his father's funeral cortege passes by. Since then we’ve had other such moments. If you were living in 1986 you remember seeing the space shuttle Challenger blooming deadly orange and white against a dark blue sky, and the nation’s collective shock. Columbine, too close to home for us, with students and teachers murdered. Great leaders assassinated. Our Capitol attacked. Each time, we stagger.  We ask why, why???

It is helpful to remember that it is our history being written. Recorded history preserves these stark memories beyond the lives that felt them, turning vivid and indelible markers into recitations of facts. Fort Sumter bombarded in 1861, the Battleship Maine sunk in Havana’s harbor in 1898, on and on. There are so many such moments, lifelong memories for those who are now themselves gone, but still moments that determine our fate. What can we do?

Our job is to remember and be strong when it happens the next time.

Harry Puncec is a writer, a neighbor, and a founding member of not only the Southern Gables Neighborhood Association but the Southern Gables neighborhood itself. Story: Memories of Early Southern Gables.

Comment or reply? Please do.