I remember having to interview my grandmother in elementary school. Of the many questions I had to ask, one was, “What moment in history will you never forget?” I still remember my grandmother describing to me, in vivid detail, exactly where she was and what she was doing the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It was a terrible day for her as a mother, a Catholic, and above all, an American. It was a day that stuck with her decades later as a instant frozen in time.
I would, of course, have my own brush with infamy only a couple years later. It’s crazy for me to think that a lot of TFM readers were perhaps too young at the time to comprehend or fully remember, but freshmen today were something like seven years old when it happened.
I was typing in junior high computer class next to the cute older girl I made sure to sit beside. I remember the teacher getting up to answer the phone on the wall, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. Teachers did this from time to time back before everyone carried a cell phone. However, something was different. In a rush, my teacher turned on the overhead digital projector, one of only two or three in the entire school at the time, and put the news on the screen for all of us to see.
It was like a scene from a movie, absolutely surreal. A passenger jet had crashed into a building and I knew not when or where, but I sat there transfixed on the screen as CNN or whomever replayed the various angles on loop. My principal, a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, came on the loudspeaker to tell the teachers to turn off the televisions, but my teacher was as paralyzed as the rest of us were. Soon enough, a second plane hit, live this time, and as a class, we just sat there and stared as flames and smoke engulfed metal, as lives were extinguished and smothered for good. Processing this event was not something any of us had prepared for, yet now we were now torn open and still expected to heal.
Looking back on it now, I remember a very emotional Yankees game and a fantastically patriotic Superbowl a couple months after, but the rest is a blur, faded into memories no longer necessary to haunt alongside the glaring details. Today, I don’t have any inappropriate jokes to help us laugh and cope, nor do I have any heavy-handed meanings to impart on the events after the fact. I don’t judge those who do, as this is a moment of grief left for each of us to share, but all I have to express are my memories, moments frozen in time, looping details of towering infernos that blaze in my consciousness as if they were happening now.
I will never forget where I was at that very moment as I watched my country come under attack, helpless in my chair, as thoughts of my family and future raced through my head. My family of course was safe, but others weren’t so lucky. People died. They died unexpectedly, without warning, and without any cause brought on by actions of their own. People died, but America and Americans pressed on, and for a time, a time far too short in the end, we set aside politics and differences and came together as a nation in mourning and in strength for those we had lost.
Remember them as you listen to the Star-Spangled Banner today, and remember that it too was written during a contentious time for our country. Francis Scott Key, the anthem’s composer, had to witness his country under attack, helplessly held on the enemy’s ship, but in the morning the American flag still waved triumphantly above the fort.
America, once again, had prevailed.