The two most commonly asked questions in the last two generations are 'where were you when Kennedy was shot' and 'where were you for 9/11?' The two biggest moments in American history, both captured on film and both changed everything we knew or understood about the country and how things worked. It brought so many questions up and worries about how things were now supposed to be because in those moments, everything changed.
For our parents generation, the definitive moment was when President Kennedy was shot because he was so young and everything happened so quickly. The times were so different in what the country was dealing with in terms of social equality; moving forward after the Cuban Missile crisis; Vietnam was still going on, but there was such hope for an early ending; and of course with the Space Program still in it's infancy, there was hope for everyone. When Cronkite broke into the news that day to say there had been a shooting and Kennedy had been hit, everything and everyone simply stopped moving and breathing, wondering what was going to happen. How could the hope of the future been taken down so violently?
For days the world just tried to understand and come to grips that there was now two worlds, before Kennedy and after. But like anything, they had to move forward with everything. Their own lives had to and they adjusted.
Time moved forward and although terrible things happened, nothing seemed as awful as that moment in Dallas, not even Bobby Kennedy at the '68 Convention. We had terrible things happen but nothing quite that took our breaths away.
Until the morning of September 11, 2001 when the world just went into chaos. There was no time to think or breath, all anyone could do was sit and watch. It literally was like watching Kennedy being shot a second time except in this case, the anarchy was people trying to get out of the way, they weren't sure what to do; everything had sped up and there was no time to stop and question.
For myself I was in 10th grade and we weren't told about the attacks until the end of the day, I suppose to ensure we wouldn't have our version of chaos because with teenagers, who tend to think the worst which wasn't possible at that point. I came home to find the television on and my mother looking so grim and wondering if Boston was next to be hit, not knowing that one of the planes that hit the towers had come from here.
There was so much going on that it was impossible to keep up, one moment to another. Even though I was hundreds of miles away, I still felt tremendous sadness because I always thought of New York as my second home, everything I loved about city life was there and someone had tried to hurt her. I also felt angry; how could this happen? We were at such a high point in the country, everything was fitting into place and with a new election in a few months there was a chance we'd have a new great president but everything changed in that moment.
A month later, Denis Leary held his first annual Leary Firefighter's hockey game with all these famous actors and Bruins. Just before the game started, a few FDNY members and Mayor Guiliani himself came out and spoke so beautiful of patriotism and not letting this get us down, that I saw grown men, my father included, start to cry. Because when Guilani told us to move forward and not to let the attacks stop us from living, we listened and thanks to him we were able to.
There are some moments that we can't change and avoid, things happen that are out of our control but I think if we stand up and say "You can take us to the gates of hell but I won't back down," Tom Petty was absolutely right.
Tuesday September 11th 2012 marks the 11th anniversary; it's a day to be grateful and to look back and remember, on things we've lost and gained, on what we didn't know before but know now.
In times of great sadness, we look to great leadership and in both cases, it happened -- both incidents shouldn't have happened to begin with but without Kennedy being assassinated and the towers falling, who knows what the world would be like and how people's behaviors would be? It's certainly interesting to think about.
Where were you on 9/11? Were you alive when Kennedy was shot?