Witnessing History


I missed the memo about witnessing history.

This is Emma Willard’s “Temple of Time”…where the hell was this when I was studying for ‘Jeopardy!’?)

While the news guys killed time tonight waiting for President Obama to swagger walk up to the podium in the East Room, one of them noted that we’ll all remember this night, this night that we learned that Public Enemy No. 1, Osama Bin Laden, was killed by American forces.   This made me take stock of the fact that I don’t really take stock of the events that constitute history in the making.   Maybe it’s because everything seems to have a political spin on it as it’s happening, so it’s really hard to appreciate the real significance of anything…

As of this writing, I’m 37 years old. I don’t remember Viet Nam or Watergate…I dimly recall gas lines and the hostages coming home from Iran.  I do remember the attempted assassination of President Reagan, but in my house, we were all much more upset about John Lennon being murdered, so that seemed a bit more important.  Then there’s a long stretch of malaise and Cold War and the constant threat of nuclear annihilation.  (Seriously, “Red Dawn” still gives me nightmares.) 

Then in 1989, I was 16 and the Berlin Wall came down.  For a minute there, it did seem like the world was going to be a much better place, at least, that’s what I thought when I heard this really irrepressible Jesus Jones song…


(and check out that fantastically spaztastic keyboard player…if the demise of communism didn’t bring a smile to your heart, then those choice dance moves must!)

Then a couple of years later, Saddam Hussein started his antics with the Kuwaitis and all of a sudden guys who had been my high school classmates five minutes ago were now signing up to go to war in a far away desert.  Has it seriously already been 20 years? Doesn’t seem that long ago…

Because the U.S.’s involvement in Iraq has been so protracted, it’s been hard for me to keep any sort of focus or perspective on it.  Then the events of September 11, 2001 occurred and I got even more confused.

On 9/11, I was a first year law student, and had been watching “Real Genius” on basic cable that morning before leaving home for class.  Val Kilmer is now forever associated in my mind with that fateful day.   I had no idea what was going on and as it gradually dawned on all of us what was happening, it really was pretty sickening.  Out here on the west coast, there was an eerie remoteness from the acute sense of terror that New Yorkers and Washingtonians must have felt, but the world definitely shifted in a perceptible way.   I grieved for the people, who not only lost their lives, but who must have been so very scared in their last moments.  It still haunts me to think about it.  And I selfishly grieved for myself, because I now had to live in a world where planes got flown into buildings and buildings fell down.  I thought crap like that only happened in Jerry Bruckheimer movies.

And now, here we are, nearly 10 years later and the 9/11 boogeyman is finally dead.  I don’t know exactly how to feel.   Maybe I need another catchy pop song about Bin Laden being killed during this Arab Spring in order to really appreciate what’s happening.   But I’ll be sure to tell my son that he had just eaten a dinner of chicken and carrots and he was wearing his favorite dinosaur jammies on the night we learned Bin Laden was dead.  Memo received.

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4 thoughts on “Witnessing History

  1. C.H. May 2, 2011 / 8:46 pm

    I think what I’ll remember most will be the fact I rolled my eyes when the “emergency” announcement turned out to be Bin Laden’s death. Wolf Blitzer is such a drama queen, I half expected them to tell us a dirty bomb went off in a major city or witness Obama announcing an impromptu war with China.

  2. Jamie Walker Ball May 2, 2011 / 9:11 pm

    Yeah, we don’t have cable, so our first news was actually from people posting it on Facebook and then we tuned in to the networks to hear Pres. Obama’s speech. It was really weird and I was trying to explain to my 3 year old that sometimes when the president is on TV we need to be quiet and pay attention because he usually needs to tell us something important. My 3 year old likes to scream “Obama” at the top of his lungs (it is fun, I must admit), but sitting still and listening to Obama talk? Not so much. A giddy pre-schooler was a strange counter-point to the big news, that’s for sure.

    • C.H. May 3, 2011 / 12:38 am

      I remember when 9/11 happened, my eldest was a toddler, and he just stared at the screen with the rest of us. He was probably wondering when we were going to put The Wiggles back on the set for him. LOL I hear you about screaming Obama. The kids and I went to one of his rallies in 2008 (back when I felt like dragging kids around to see political rallies and protests for the education-factor). They screamed and waved the signs they handed out for the same reason: screaming and waving things makes for a good time!

  3. Sanden May 5, 2011 / 4:06 am

    Funny, I noticed all media telling me I would remember this moment too. And I was thinking at the time that I actually probably wouldn’t remember where I was and what I was doing that moment if the media didn’t constantly tell me this was history in the making.

    There is a difference between the kind of history you will remember happening and the kind that happens to you and you remember it. I think this falls into the former for me.

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