"Where were you when you learned Kennedy was shot?"
Sadness ensues and an explicit series of events pours forth detailing when, where, how, who, why. Exactly when they heard the news; where they were as it was relayed to them; how they learned it; who told them; and why it has impacted their lives up to and including this day.
For a little while, my generation had the same question when asked about the Challenger blowing up. I was taking my 11th grade final exam in Health when Mrs. Bradt came into the room and blurted out what had happened. We knew this was serious because everyone knows there is no talking during an exam and she looked positively shell-shocked.
I remember going home where the media relived the explosion over and over and over while providing voice over details of how Christa McCaulliffe, the school teacher chosen special for this mission, couldn't wait to come back and share the experience with her class. This has stayed with me always as a reminder of no matter how far we progress scientifically there will always be events we not only can't predict, we never even saw them coming.
September 11th is now the indelible event forever marked on all Americans of how something we never saw coming changed our lives forever.
Nine years ago, I was a stay-at-home Mom. Our son was in second grade and it happened to be one of the days our oldest daughter did not have nursery school. As the television was hardly ever on, I knew nothing about the towers when it happened. Circumstances prompted me to call my Mom, who answered the phone in tears. I asked what was wrong and she told me. None of this registered with me until I turned on the TV, when in an instant, the world seemed to stop.
I had never felt so helpless in all my life. Very soon my prayer group of moms convened at my house where we sat in front of the TV all day looking for answers. And we prayed. We prayed for the firefighters, for the police, for the people who could not get out, for the families who couldn't reach their loved ones, for the passengers on a plane who thought it was just another day before they were forced to play a part in history they never signed up for. I wanted my children around me where I could hold them close and wondered how to keep them safe for always.
In the days that followed, no one laughed. It didn't seem right. American patriotism and pride swelled the nation as songs were written, we lit candles, many renewed their relationships with God, children waved small flags, and we went to war.
Since September 11th, we have become a nation living in fear. We fear everything: bed bugs, pandemic flu, running out of Purell, someone carrying a water bottle on a plane, not having the calorie count on the McDonald's menu, losing our jobs, losing our homes, crooked politicians, crooked Wall Street - you mention it and we've been conditioned to fear it.
The New York State Museum in Albany has a 9/11 exhibit. If you have not seen this presentation, I strongly encourage you to do so. Today. Go Now. Though I have walked through many times, it never fails to make me cry and take me right back to that time. While it is heart-breaking to see, it also shows how strong we are as Americans and as a nation. It gives me hope - we will endure.
In memory and honor of Fr. Mychal Judge, O.F.M.