Where Were You?

This is a question we ask each other about events that are so horrendous (in our view) that we vow we will never forget, even though we do. 9/11 is one such event. It is one of three such events that have (almost) occurred within my lifetime. It it the only one where I can say exactly where I was. (Not quite true, but close enough.)

The other two events were the assassination of JFK in 1963, and Pearl Harbor Day in 1941. In the case of the JFK assassination, I know approximately where I was, but not exactly. In the case of Pearl Harbor Day, I do know exactly where I was, but I don’t know the location of the womb I was residing in.

We are struck by these events and vow permanent memory, and we assume that they had the same effect on everyone, not realizing how culture-centric they are. But, the events are centered on us and do not have the same significance to other people in the world, just as their horrendous events do not affect us in the same way that they are a affected. You can bet that the people of Hiroshima talked for decades about where they were on August 6. But, they probably don’t spend too much time on where they were on 11/9 (different date format).

On 9/11, I was in England, having arrived there that morning. It was a big deal in England. The government put a Book of Remembrance in every post office so that the citizens could record their feelings. We had many conversations about the events. (We couldn’t hide because my wife grew up in west Texas and sounds like it.) Every conversation, with one exception, had the same two parts. Part A was “Oh, how terrible. We’re with you all the way.” Part B was “We certainly hope that your President doesn’t go and do something stupid on his own.” Part B was not an unreasonable fear given that our President was, and is, known for letting his swagger get in the way of his thinking. The one conversation that was different was with a postal worker from India; it had Parts A and B and also Part C: “Well, you know that terrorist attacks are a daily occurrence in India.” We will remember the 9/11 events for a long time. but, why this event and not others?

Why do some events rise in our consciousness while others not so much? Why the 9/11 bombings, but not the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City–the 20th anniversary of that bombing was in April of this year? Why not the Boston Marathon bombing? It has already started to fade from our consciousness. Do we get exercised about 9/11 because the perps were foreigners, but not about the Murrah Building bomber because he was one of us? Do we not remember the Waco siege 2 years before (the reason for the Murrah Building bombing) because it was done by us?

Why do we get exercised about school shootings, but it doesn’t seem to last? After the Sandy Hook shootings we got really upset, but it lasted less than a month. It lasted exactly until the Congress said officially that they were not going to do anything. It was reported later that there had been 74 school shootings in the 78 weeks after Sandy Hook–that it is a once a week occurrence. That number was challenged, and factcheck.org looked at it carefully. They determined that the number was greatly exaggerated. There were, in fact, only 34 mass shootings at schools in that period. Not one a week. Not quite one every other week. I feel much better now that that has been clarified. Why do we not get excited about this? Maybe it’s because we know in our hearts that we will never, ever have the courage to do anything about it.

Where were you?

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