By: Tanya Dodd-Hise
This past Sunday was the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001. Facebook blew up the closer that it got with messages of remembrance and “never forget” admonishments. At one point it seemed a bit redundant to see the words “Never Forget” over and over – how in the world could anyone in this generation EVER forget the horrible events that happened that day? I would be scarce to find any, I imagine. But I digress.
So we were driving, that Sunday, to have brunch with one of our close friends for her birthday. We chose to go and celebrate this day with her because of her birth, rather than stay glued to the sadness that clogged the TV and airwaves with a constant influx of reminders and visuals. Before we left for brunch, Erikka started telling me about a professor that she had in college who said that “every generation has a cohesive event that brings them together…except for this one [meaning those of her age].” This lecture was given before 9/11. This lecture was given before Hurricane Katrina occurred in New Orleans. So at the time, she was correct; but then those events happened, and she remained correct by the truth of her words.
This got me to thinking about major “cohesive” events that have occurred throughout history for different generations, and what it might mean for this baby girl that we are about to have. I would hope and pray that she never has to deal with a national tragedy, but sigh when I think that it is highly likely that she will. I wonder what it was like for the generations before us. I wonder how, without the age of technology that we have, did they come together for a united cause?
For my parents’ generation, the major cohesive event was probably Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas. Whenever I would talk to my mom or any of her friends about it, every single one of them could tell their own unique story about where they were, what they were doing, who they were with, and how they reacted. One might think that the Vietnam War would have united most folks, but in reality it left a country very divided.
For my grandparents’ generation, the major cohesive event was probably World War II; specifically the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The country was shocked and in horror as the Japanese dared to come onto our waters and bomb our ships and harbors. People came together like they had never known, and cheered as FDR issued an order for war the day after Pearl Harbor was bombed. Men enlisted and went to war in both the Pacific and European theaters, while women went to work in factories, flew shuttle planes, and formed baseball leagues to keep the folks back home entertained. I remember telling my students, when I taught History, that everything happens for a reason, and every event has a ripple effect that goes on for generations after it. My grandfather was in the Navy during World War II, and worked on an aircraft carrier that was based out of Pearl Harbor. Fortunately for him, and probably for a lot of other grandfathers-to-be that day, all of the aircraft carriers were out of the harbor and either at sea or in other ports; and this was specifically what the Japanese were coming to bomb. When the students looked at me with that puzzled look of, “What’s your point?” I would then explain that Pearl Harbor occurred on December 7, 1941. After the attack my grandfather was sent home on leave; my mother was born on November 25, 1942. Had his aircraft carrier been in the harbor, it likely would have been blown up and he could have very easily died; and thus my mother would not have been born 11 months or so later; and thus I would not have been born in 1970. A ripple effect. These major cohesive events have long lasting consequences that many have no idea are even present. And for people of Jewish descent during my grandparents’ generation? They had a huge event – the Holocaust. It SHOULD have brought anybody who was human together in a cohesive way, but it didn’t seem to have that effect on people like most believe that it should. But that is a whole other blog in and of itself.
So now here we are, ten years after one of the most terrifying days that I can remember in my lifetime. I didn’t sleep well for weeks afterward, and I lived in fear of bombs and of air travel. Yes, I know exactly where I was when I learned of what happened – I can tell you the exact intersection and traffic light I sat frozen at when I heard it on the radio, when I noticed that there were NO planes flying overhead for the first time in my life. I can also remember the way that this country came together in the days and months that followed this horrible tragedy. For the first time ever, it didn’t matter if someone was black or white, Catholic or Baptist, gay or straight. We were Americans first. I would bet money that after the events of 9/11, nobody cared if Ben who worked in the North tower was married to Tom, or if he was gay for that matter. The only thing that mattered THAT day was that thousands of innocent lives were lost, and not one of them was more important than any other. Every person was counted and mourned for WHO they were: someone’s son, daughter, husband, wife, partner, friend, father, mother. Why does it have to take something as horrible as the events of 9/11 to make our country see each other as people just like themselves? What made that sensation of “we’re in it together” go away? That was the America that I was so proud to live in. Years later, it would be that way again when Hurricane Katrina wiped out the city of New Orleans. This “cohesive event” would capture us again, bring us together, and draw us closer. People lending a hand, sharing their homes with strangers and other families, offering help however they could.
So this makes me wonder, for our baby girl who will be here sooner than we’re probably ready for: what will be that cohesive event for HER generation? What is it going to take to bring this country together as one again? A country that is so divided in politics, in religion, in race even still, and in treating every citizen equally and respectfully…what will it take?