America celebrated two HUGE anniversaries in U.S. History this week. The first occurred on Tuesday, November 19th with the 150th Anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s delivery of the Gettysburg Address. The second occurs on Friday, November 22nd, with the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
There are a few, select dates in American History that virtually anyone alive at the time remembers. Think April 14, 1865 and December 7, 1941, or November 22, 1963 and September 11, 2001.
Where were you when President Kennedy was assassinated? If you were alive and over the age of five in 1963, chances are you not only remember the day, but can recall where you were and what you were doing as well.
While attending grade school in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I remember hearing teachers talk about their personal memories of that fateful day. I recall my fascination that they were alive on such an important – albeit tragic – date in American History. I recently e-mailed some family members querying their memories from the day Kennedy was shot, and each one that responded had memories to share.
My generation's “Kennedy” moment came on 9-11. Like those with memories of '63, I remember with crystal clarity where I was, and what I was doing that terrible day in '01.
A 22-year old college freshman at Utah Valley University, I was on my way to attend an early morning worship service at the Provo, Utah LDS Temple. I recall a radio announcer somewhat flippantly announcing how a plane had apparently struck one of the towers of the World Trade Center. Word had not yet spread accurately, and his assumption was that some crazy – perhaps drunk – pilot had gone and crashed a little plane into the mammoth building with little collateral damage. Based on the tone, attitude, and misinformation of this uninformed radio announcer, I thought little of the news as I arrived at the Temple, parked my car, and turned off the radio.
Two hours later, when I returned to my car and turned the radio back on, it was a very different story. Nearly every channel was spreading the unthinkable news. HELL had broken loose in Lower Manhattan and the World was watching as its pillars of power crumbled into a fiery plume of destruction. When I returned to my apartment, I glued myself to the television screen. Tears came to my eyes as I beheld the horror replayed over and over. It was surreal – unearthly – like nothing I had ever experienced before.
That night, my roommate began running all around the neighborhood like Paul Revere warning of gas prices shooting to $5 a gallon, which, in 2001, would have been truly calamitous news. His warnings turned out to be unnecessary, but I’ll never forget the sober pall that was cast over the nation in the days to come – the candlelight services, the prayers, and Enrique Iglesias’ song Hero playing repeatedly on the radio.
While it is tragic that such events such as 11-22 and 9-11 occur in the first place, it always amazes me the profound effects – some of them positive – it has on those who experience them. Indeed, the development of vital human qualities such as humility, reverence, sobriety, gratitude, and reflectiveness would be much more difficult without disappointments, failures, grief, and yes, even tragedy. Such moments induce deep reflection, and invite us to ponder the meaning of life, and our individual purpose here on Earth. They create an opportunity to consider things we normally wouldn’t amidst the hustle and bustle of our busy schedules, endless task lists, and the relatively meaningless minutia of life.
Fortunately, such tragic moments don’t happen every day. I would never wish such terrible events on any person or nation. Yet I believe there is great value that can be found in both dealing with and reflecting back on such dates in our history – what they meant for the people who experienced the events, and what they mean to us now.
Taking time out to remember and memorialize the tragic events of yesteryear remind us how fragile human life is, and fill us with gratitude for its remarkable gift for which we are all partakers. May this day of reflection and memorial be a day of personal reflection that will make you a better person made more grateful and compassionate by the time and effort you invest in reflection.
To help in this reflection, I encourage perusal (click on link) of the following websites and/or other materials.