50 Thoughts: Where Were You When …

Originally published August 31, 2018

Pushing 50, it seems almost impossible to believe it’s been 21 years since Princess Diana died. Even worse, it’s impossible to believe she was only 36.

I’ll always know how long it’s been since she died because I was pregnant with my middle at the time, and gave birth just a few weeks after the Labor Day weekend accident. And I remember exactly where I was — sitting on my mom’s couch, watching the television scrawl with news of the accident from Paris. We all just sat there, in a stunned silence. One of those, “That can’t be right” feelings floating across our brains.

I’m sure every generation has their “Where were you when” kind of moment, or moments. I can’t speak for my parents, but I have to believe Kennedy’s assassination ranks right up there at the top. For my grandparents, maybe it was the end of World War II. Hard to say how those historical moments impacted so many, given the news wasn’t as instantaneous as it is today.

I’m not a history savant, but I do enjoy it. For me, historical events serve as markers in time, and it’s interesting how my perspective in real-time has changed over the years as I’ve matured.

For example — one of the very first “major” news events I remember? When President Reagan was shot. I was in sixth grade, and home sick from school, and quite frankly, annoyed the news coverage was interrupting “General Hospital.” I mean, I suppose I had some glimmer of empathy and hope that he was OK, but honestly, I didn’t feel like it had to take up the entire afternoon. I chalk it up to being young and dumb.

Fast forward to my junior year of high school, where I with a couple of friends watched the Bears win the ’86 Super Bowl while “studying” for finals. And just two days later, I was walking out of my physics exam (surprise, surprise, watching a Super Bowl instead of actively studying doesn’t do you any favors in the smarts department) when the news about the Challenger explosion was announced over the PA system. No longer that easily annoyed by tragedy, it seemed surreal that something so tragic could occur. NASA was supposed to be bulletproof. This was maybe one of the first times I understood there’s no such thing as a guarantee.

I have a vague recollection of my dad calling from Chicago to our house in Milwaukee with news of John Belushi’s 1982 death. Again, the magnitude of the situation eluded me. Fast forward to 1998 when I was driving back from my company’s Detroit area office to our headquarters in mid-Michigan and I heard about Phil Hartman’s death on the radio. I nearly had to pull over, I was so shocked. And then just four years ago, when Robin Williams died? Crying ugly.

Maybe there’s something about being younger and not really understanding mortality that makes it difficult to wrap your head around grief. Because certainly, now that I am older, these kinds of events are gut punches. Maybe it’s supposed to work that way. After all, if we as a collective, regardless of age, curled into detail position every time something bad happened, how would we remember to function again? so much of the time, it’s the kids that keep us going. I’ll never forget nursing my two-week-old daughter on a bright September morning, watching the Today Show when the towers fell. But for that 7 lb. bundle totally reliant on me, I can see how easy it would have been to sink into despair.

It’s also important to note that not everything has to be tragic to have that kind of impact, right? I’ll never forget the bar I was at with another co-worker watching the election returns in 1992. Or experiencing absolute elation when my Spartans won the Final Four in 2000. The living room I am sitting in now was also where I sat watching Barack Obama become president, and the Cubs win in 2016. Those are the kinds of “where were you when” moments we should all look forward to.

Today’s recommendation: Talking about history, The Nix seems like a natural fit, if for no other reason than we join the protagonist, Samuel Andersen, as he tries to uncover his family’s past. A really fabulous piece of fiction.

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