I heard it from my grandmother—the question of her day:
Where were you on the attack of Pearl Harbor?
I also remember how shocked I was years later to discover that Pearl Harbor had not always been synonymous with war and pain and the ugliness of bombs.
It had actually been the cream of the crop of cushy assignments…until that morning.
20 years later, the question for my parents:
Where were you when John F. Kennedy was killed?
What they thought of his politics wasn’t the point. It was the horribleness of hearing the President of the United States had been killed.
My father drove a school bus of high-schoolers at the time. “Did you hear?” all the drivers asked as they waited for school to let out. The students climbed on, and Dad told them he wanted quiet—for respect of the position of the presidency.
No one even coughed.
My own high school years:
Where were you when the Challenger exploded?
With the added, “Why didn’t someone listen to the warnings?”
Schools around the country—high school, middle school, elementary, even preschool—watched the spaceship take off in honor of the first civilian aboard, a history teacher, Christa McAuliffe. Everyone cheered at liftoff, thinking everything was normal. And continued cheering at the explosion seconds later. They thought it was the normal separation of shuttle from launcher…
But then realized with horror that it was anything but normal. All aboard died.
The past two decades? Obviously,
Where were you when the Twin Towers fell?
I remember every moment of that morning—18 years ago today—My first two munchkins headed out for the bus stop. My neighbor: “Did you hear? A plane hit one of the Twin Towers.”
Notice the period ending the sentence. We thought it was a mistake, a pilot error, a miscalculation of air space. We weren’t even sure what kind of plane… I took my other three children to the gym where everyone was clustered around the TV. Watching.
Another plane. The other Tower. Maybe more planes.
As I left, I turned on the radio. I sat in my car and stared up at the sky. Wondering what I would see, wondering what I could do if I did see something…
I did what everyone did that night.
Probably what everyone did after each of the time-stopping questions across the decades.
I pulled my family close and watched the news, praying….
A Loss of Innocence
It’s interesting to me the statement that went around Facebook a few years ago on the first day of school: that that year’s high school freshmen were the first class entering high school to only know 9/11 as a date in history—because they weren’t alive when it happened. Those kids are now high school seniors.
It brought back the first time I met students who had no idea what the Challenger was because they’d been born a year later. They didn’t know the horridness of it. The devastation. The nightmare.
They were still innocent.
It isn’t the same if you read about it in a book. Even watch a video of it. It can upset you. Make you teary. Make you ask Why?
But to live through it, it changes you.
In the 15th year memorial, I saw so many repetitions of “We will never forget!”
I’d like to believe it…
That the prayers that turned people to God would keep us bowing the knee.
That songs of God Bless America would cause us to seek His face and His ways.
That the realization that human beings can do such evil things to each other would draw us closer to the Christ who willingly gave His life for us and called us to live for Him.
But society is a funny thing.
People die. New ones are born—New ones who don’t ask the questions because they weren’t there to live through it.
The memory fades. Becomes a date in a textbook.
And then, in the new generation, something new happens. A time-stopper. Devastation.
It saddens me. Because I long for innocence.
I long for a time
- when evil will be stopped.
- when people will not sell each other out for money or power or a deadline. Or just to be right.
- when we will acknowledge that we—every one of us—have sinful hearts that will not be fixed by our getting our own way.
In other words, I long for Jesus. The Way. The Truth. The Life.
Oh, Lord Jesus, come quickly!