It was 25 years ago today.
I had not realized that today was the anniversary until I saw this Facebook status post from a friend: "It's almost hard to believe it's been 25 years since my vintage had our 'I'll never forget where I was when I saw that' moment in life."
I knew immediately the event to what he referred. Do you? It was the Challenger explosion, a horrific event that highlighted the mid-eighties and ended innocence for many. I remember where I was - I was on an airplane, returning to Waco from the University of Utah debate tournament. The pilot came on the speaker and announced the news. The shuttle had exploded. All aboard, including a female civilian school teacher, were killed. Space exploration had been our debate topic the year before, so I was pretty well-versed in the space program in 1986. I took this very personally.
My friend's post has gotten me to thinking.... What are the events of national and international significance during my lifetime that cause me to remember exactly where I was when I heard about them?
I was born in 1965, which makes me, depending on which article you read, either the very tail end of the Baby Boom or the very beginning of Generation X. Either way, I am of a generation that was not alive for Pearl Harbor, D-Day, Sputnik, or the Kennedy assassination. For me and my generation, the defining world events are different.
Listed below are what they are for me. These are not all necessarily the most important events of the last 46 years (although some of them certainly are). Not included are wars, invasions, deaths, economic crises, genocides, scientific breakthroughs, presidential elections, Super Bowls, or many other significant events that I of course remember as critical history, even though I do not recollect the exact place where I was when they occurred. Instead, these are the events that, as I look back, I remember with specificity when and where I was when I first heard about them.
1. Neil Armstrong walks on the moon. July, 1969. My parents and I were on a trip returning home, and we stopped at a motel in Fort Smith, Arkansas - a mere 50 miles or so from home - and checked in so that we could watch. It was a little black-and-white tv set, and I was only 4, but I remember.
2. Hank Aaron hits his 715th home run, breaking Babe Ruth's record. April, 1974. I was at my grandparents' house in Gladewater, Texas, watching what was at that time a rare Monday night national broadcast of a baseball game.
3. Nixon resigns the presidency. August, 1974. Another motel. Family vacation in Boone, North Carolina.
4. The bicentennial. July 4, 1976. At my house in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
5. Elvis dies. August, 1977. Again at my grandparents' house in Gladewater.
6. John Lennon is shot and killed. December, 1980. In my bed in Nashville, listening to the radio when I was supposed to be asleep.
7. President Reagan is shot. March, 1981. I was a sophomore in high school. It was early afternoon. I heard about it on my high school campus. Some cynical students cheered; that really ticked me off.
8. Space shuttle Challenger explodes. January 1986. See above.
9. Police pursue O.J. Simpson in a slow-speed chase. June, 1994. Gena, 9-month-old Trey, and I were on vacation. On our way to a family reunion in Phoenix, we stopped in Las Vegas to see one of my old roommates and his wife. They took us to dinner in the sports book at Caesar's Palace at a restaurant of which we had never heard at that time - the California Pizza Kitchen. Dozens of TVs all over the walls showed a plethora of different sporting events. All of a sudden, every TV was showing a white bronco. It was surreal.
10. Timothy McVeigh blows up the Murrah building in Oklahoma City. April, 1995. I was in my office in Nashville. The radio was on as I worked. I heard the news and went in to tell Mr. Robinson, the firm's senior partner.
11. O.J. Simpson is acquitted. October, 1995. I was standing in Demos' Restaurant in Nashville with co-workers, after lunch, watching the TV over the bar.
12. Two planes crash into the World Trade Center. Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001. I was leaving an early morning Bible Study at Belmont University, heading to my office, listening to the radio when the news came on. I was so stricken and distracted that I got a ticket for speeding through a school zone. (The judge subsequently dismissed the ticket, himself remembering how shaken we all were when we got the news.)
13. My now 17-year-old son receives his first college acceptance. Today, January 28, 2011. OK, maybe not an event of international importance, but you could not tell that at our house.
Events that shaped a generation. As I look back, the ones of these that most affected me were 9/11, the shooting of President Reagan, and the Challenger explosion. That is not to diminish the tragedy of Oklahoma City or the cultural significance of John Lennon; I am just recalling which ones made the most indelible marks on me.
Where were you?