My day starts with telling my smart speaker to “start my day” followed by Alexa giving a small piece of history about the day, the Word of th Day, the local weather forcast and my news flash briefing. It takes about 10-15 minutes to get sort of up to speed and works often as my personal snooze button. Today, the history note was a reminder that it’s September 11th (9/11). Which was enough of a distraction to ignore much of what followed and to consider history in the context of my life.
A disclaimer: I am from the era of television. It is possible my parents did not have a set when I was born, but it is much more likely they did, or obtained one within my first couple of years of existance. In either case, I cannot remember a time where there was not a ‘one-eyed’ monster in some room of the house. I heard stories from relatives of life centered around the radio, of times spent sitting on the couch and watching the wall (so to speak, as Garry Larson in Far Side comic fashion so greatly put it) but it was before my time. Life at the speed of telegraph and pony express are essentially incomprehensible to even me, I can hardly imagine what today’s generation would think.
So, with the day’s starting with a nudge of memory, I found myself reliving four (4) specific events in history that were made ‘real’ by being seen on television. In a day where everyone (and I mean EVERYONE…even my six year old grand daughter has a kindle…no phone yet, though, and a good thing, too) is connected to the internet in some way or another, the idea of event delay is almost inconceviable. That you might have to wait until noon or six to find out what is happening on the news is archaic (and the thought of the need to ‘read’ the newspapper when it’s delivered tomorrow morning simply barbaric). It’s almost too long to wait to look at the phone when it beeps while driving as it is (and apparently for WAAAY too many drivers it IS too long to wait…so they look while driving…and reply…and swerve and bob and weave and….) so quickly does life throw history at you. It was not always so…
The first TV history moment that I remember is actually quite fuzzy. In 1963 my mom was watching her ‘soaps’ in the afternoon. As hard as it might be to consider, the soap operas done in the daytime were broadcast live and not “recorded before a live studio audience” as most sit-coms are done now. So when the characters went off script and said (something like) “oh, no! The president’s been shot…” it was quit dramatic. Most of the rest of the day’s broadcast was mostly news of the aftermath of the assination of president Kennedy. I remember more of the feel of the event than the actual happenings, as I was only seven at the time. But my parents were quite upset, as was the world in general.
The second memory was the landing of Apollo 11 in 1969. My whole family was sitting in the darkened living room watching the grainy black-and-white images (on our ‘colored’ TV, the B&W images bringing back memories of a past—but recently past—era) of the “one small step” from the moon. Science was a big thing in my family, so to be able to watch it in “real” time was amazing and I watched a lot of space missions over the years, but this one definitely stands out in my mind.
As does the third event, the Challanger disaster in 1986. I was actually working at the time (I drove a propane truck and was on my route to deliver cyllinders to businesses for their fork-trucks) and swung by my mom’s house on a coffee break to watch the launch. I was standing in her kitchen watching on a 12″ B&W portable TV sitting on the counter and chatting when they run the count-down. Seventy-three seconds into the flight, it ended…badly. It was kind of fitting (in a way) to watch it without colour, just as I had seen the moon shot nearly two decades earlier. The (countless) replays in colour didn’t really add much to the feeling of horror and dismay at the initial shock when the event was happening in real time. It was simply on a larger screen. The rest of the day’s work was done in a more somber, meditative state.
Finally, another work-day event burned into my memory because of television, the attacks of 9/11. I was working in technical support for EDS and was linked by phone to the rest of my team by phone when the day’s events began. A couple of the team members (including my closest partner Kristie) worked from home and had their TV’s on in the background. She gave a real-time description of what she was watching of the events in New York as we sat in cubes in a windowless building in mid-Michigan. Frankly, I didn’t believe her, that it was simply way too much to be happening. I took my lunch break to go to get a radio to bring back to my desk to follow events. It wasn’t until I got to the store and was looking at radios when it suddenly became totally real to me. I saw the second plane hit (on a TV in the same isle) and it wasn’t just a story. The world I lived in changed in a tangible, viceral way eighteen years ago in ways the previous three events simply couldn’t match. “Normal” broadcasting was off-air for the next week, and it was months before other stories pushed their way into news headlines.
For the generation(s) arising after these events, I’d like to point out a subtle but important idea regarding history. It happens daily, whether or not you notice. Being instantly connected to the world and communicating with friends in real time can numb you to the significance of events happening now. There were a LOT of other things that have happened in the six plus decades of my life, some were even televised (like Watergate, the Beatles, Viet Nam, and the Simpsons) but not all made the same level of impression in my memory. Frankly, there’s much that has fallen through the cracks and is lost to me unless reminded from outside sources. But in every case, the “historic” day began just the same as every “ordinary” one…it was (at the time) today.
There are huge numbers of people that will look back on today as a “life-changing” event, others will remember today with fond memories, some not-so-fondly, and the rest will simply live and forget this day, the same as many (most?) others. How you react to today will mostly be the result of how aware you are while passing through the 886,400 seconds that make up this day. To the extent you are aware and alert to what is happening around you (rather than looking at your phone and watching the latest [insert meme of choice here] or listening to the newest [insert rant of preference here] will determine how sticky this September Eleventh remains in your history. There will NEVER be another one just like it (mulitple parallel planes of existance in an infinite universe not withstanding…but that’s another blog) and if you’re not careful, you will miss it…
Besides, if the cosmologists are correct, even Little Orphan Annie will be wrong eventuallly…because the song will simply be wrong and it won’t happen.
[cue music] The sun will come out……..tomorrow!
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[Humorous Note: the addition of the link to the Gary Larson comic added nearly three (3) hours to the writing of this post, as eventually the rabbit trail took me down a couple/several/many videos and pages filled with Far Side memories…]