Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9/11 and Memory Overload

Around the dinner table Sunday night, we got to comparing notes on the momentous question of "where were you when...?"  For starters, specifically "when you first heard about the planes hitting the towers?" Mrs. B was at breakfast, the radio at her elbow.  My sister Sally was welcoming to deliverymen who had showed up with a new stove, the television behind her.  I was still asleep, in a motel away from home, when the planes hit; when I woke up I flipped on the television and for the first ten minutes, I thought I was watching a movie.

Which naturally segued into the more general question.  When you learned, e.g., that John Kennedy had been shot?  Oh, I  remember that one: I was covering (perhaps dozing over) a boring conference for the newspaper when somebody stepped into the backroom and said "gentlemen, I have some news..."  That much is vivid in my mind; indeed, the whole day is vivid.  I also remember Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King but here, I have to admit the details begin to blur: which day was which?

;How about the end of World War II?   Sally and I remember; Mrs. B, God bless her, was too young.  But Sally and I had a time sorting out exactly what part we remembered and from when.  At last we settled on the surrender of Japan in August 1945 (I remembered the date as the ninth, but a bit of research suggests it was the 15th).   Anyway, we kids organized a parade; we beat pots and pans.

But it turns out there is no end to this game.  How about the Challenger disaster?  Waco?  Oklahoma City?  Columbine?  Virginia Tech?   My own answers, in order: sort of; no; yes; yes; no.  After a while, you began to realize that you are up against a severe case of memory overload, with the unsettling insight that after a while they all start to blur into one.   Okay, maybe it is just too much publicity but I have all the disasters I can handle and I hope (but do not expect) that I will not have to promise another.

By the way, none of the three of us remembers the day John Lennon died.   And I suppose if we did, we would call him simply "John."

1 comment:

Ken Houghton said...

Being slightly younger, I wouldn't mark several of those as "where were you when..." moments. (Of course, I don't count the White Bronco as a "moment" either, so the next generation will be laughing.)

And I suspect some of it is timing. Kennedy and The Challenger were both ca. midday (Eastern time). Even Columbia was around 10:00am Saturday morning.

By contrast, "Early morning/April 4/Shot rings out in a Memphis sky" is EARLY morning--Left Coasters were in the middle of the night. (The second plane hits at 8:46am--even that's a borderline call for the West Coast, just as Bobby getting killed is almost too late in the day for a common memory.)

Waco lasts a few days; it's like asking, "Where were you when Jim Jones and Guyana happened?"--Which part? When he killed the Congressman? When his followers killed themselves? When everyone found out what happened? Same with Columbine and VA Tech (and what Paducah would have been). Or "where were you when the first anthrax mailing was revealed?"--too diffuse.

Lennon I can somewhat tell you. It was 10-7 when it was announced he was shot, 10-10 by the time Howard Cosell confirmed it, and 13-10 final. And, no, I wasn't watching the game--I vaguely remember that it as being in Miami, maybe against the Patriots?--it was just where everyone was, and where people kept going back to check because, somehow, even in NYC, ABC's football announcers had quicker information than PIX or NEW.

It's the times you stop what you are doing. JFK. Grissom, White, and Chafee. Neil Armstrong--the only exception to my "time of day" rule. Lennon. Challenger. (Maybe Columbia, but that's a repeat.) 11.09.01. Maybe the Murrah Building, but that's a recapitulated Columbine, which is an echo of Waco; just as MLK and Bobby are Jack Redux. YMMV.