Memorable Moments

9/11. Unfortunately we all have the images of this terrible day seared into our memories.

Where were you when you heard the news? How did it affect you that day…and after… and now?

My daughter-in-law heard about it on the car radio while driving her little girl to nursery school, and called us here as soon as she got home. We sat watching in stunned silence, and then, when the second plane hit, in absolute horror. How could this happen? Later that morning my son called from home to say that a colleague had interrupted the beginning of his lecture at the university where he teaches, just across the border. “Run,” he was told. “Leave everything and get out of here… the USA is under attack!” My son raced for his car and crossed the border just minutes before it was closed. We sat and watched the same news footage over and over, hoping that someone could make sense of this catastrophe.

To-day I am reminded of other breaking news stories we watched obsessively: the Challenger explosion in 1983, the Hokkaido earthquake in 2011 and its terrifying tsunami and nuclear meltdown, as well as the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004. We watched helpless people lining up for shelter in the stadium as hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. We saw that bullet hit John F. Kennedy and Jackie’s reaction in November 1963, and I can see in my imagination the expression on Lee Harvey Oswald’s face as Jack Ruby shot him at close range two days later. I remember hearing about Watergate on the clock radio as it turned on in June 1972, and then listening to radio news of the hearings as we camped with friends and our young families beside a Muskoka lake on a magnificent summer night. What do you remember of these breaking… and heart breaking… stories?

I have very clear memories of the Cuban missile crisis. In October 1962 I was living away from home for the first time in my life, sharing an apartment in Toronto with three room mates, in my first year of teaching. We sat glumly around the kitchen table for a while, then called our parents… long distance calls were still an expensive luxury, but we each needed to reach out to family. Should I prepare my lessons for the next day? Ann and Hazel had essays due in three days for university classes they were taking. Helen had to prepare for a presentation at work the following day. We sat and talked until very late… and then decided to get on with business as usual. It was not business as usual… our youthful optimism was badly shaken. But Kennedy prevailed in his courageous showdown with Kruschev and Castro. I think we learned not to “sweat the small stuff” and that “everything is small stuff”… except when it’s not!

In 1965 and again in 2003 there were massive power blackouts all over the the eastern half of North America. In ’65 I was driving on a busy road when everything was suddenly plunged into darkness… eerie, dangerous, very frightening. The portable and car radios were no help because the stations were not broadcasting… so no one knew what was happening. Where were you when the lights went out?

My question to-day, eleven years after the fact, is how we are affected by seeing these images of disaster repeated over and over, how we react huddled in isolation with our families in front of that blinking impacable eye of the television screen, how this feeling of engagement and immediacy combines with anxiety and anger.

It is all so real, it is all so unfair! Where is God when we need Him?

What are your memories of these memorable moments?

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