Moments when time stands still

Where were you when you heard that the Challenger exploded?  I was in the hallway outside my 6th grade classroom.  The school receptionist told me the news.

Where were you when you heard Princess Diana had died in a car crash in Paris?  I was in a bar in the Adirondacks.

Where were you when you heard that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center?  I was at my desk on the 31st floor of an office building downtown.  Matt called from LA to tell me what had happened.

I suspect that for my parents, when Kennedy was shot was one of these moments.  For my grandparents, perhaps one is when they heard the war ended.

What I’m not sure of is whether the experiences have to be brutal and sorrowful to have the power I’m describing.  If it’s true that Nana and Ba and Gaga and Pops could remember with pinpoint accuracy learning about the end of World War Two, that would suggest that positive news can have the same kind of stop-time power (though, maybe, when it comes to war, you’re already in a world so far removed from Good News that’s not true).  Unfortunately I can’t ask them, so I don’t know.

What will these moments be for Grace and Whit?  I always wonder.  For someone who believes so entirely in the importance of an ordinary life’s most mundane moments, I’m also aware that there are certain experiences that are so powerful and extraordinary that they create a different kind of awareness.  Time tilts off of its axis for a moment, and we never forget that shift.  These experiences also have the power of uniting us with our communities, countries, and the world.  I predict that anyone of my generation can tell you exactly where they were when they learned the three pieces of news I mention above.

If you’re approximately my age, can you?



29 thoughts on “Moments when time stands still”

  1. You’re so right about these big axis tilting moments Lindsey… For the Challenger I was home, watching it on TV because we had a snow day. My memory is not so much the moment, but right after, and then sitting on the couch in disbelief (I was about 9 or 10) and seeing the shuttle split into two balls of fire on TV, over and over again. A decade and a half later, I’d watch footage of the Twin Towers, the one tower crumbling on repeat. For 9/11 I was in a subway on the way to work. I came out in Times Square and stood watching the enormous screen show the first plane hitting the building, but my first impression, as I approached a group of busy New Yorkers standing still and staring upward, was someone was going to jump off a building. Tragically this would be true in a way.

    For some reason I imagine myself at home watching Diana’s death announced with my parents. But weirdly this memory is a bit mixed up with watching the OJ Simpson car pursuit.

    I wonder too what those moments will be for my children. I can only hope they will be safely on the couch with me in our home, or safe out in the world.

  2. I remember each of those moments so clearly. Challenger in the hallway of my middle school in between classes. I don’t remember who told me. Princess Di at my friend Elizabeth’s lake house with a big group of friends. We were watching tv. And 9/11 sitting at my desk in-between students. A fellow teacher told me. My memory is not great so it does always amaze me how clearly I hold each of these moments…

  3. Yes, all of these moments are crystal clear for me too. Challenger, sixth grade classroom. Princess Diana, alone in grad school apartment. 9/11 got an email from my husband while I was working. I wonder what those moments will be for my child too.

  4. Challenger: in the auditorium of Amherst Regional Junior High. Seventh grade. We had all gathered to watch on a little TV on a cart in the front of the room.
    Diana. In my parents’ TV room, folding laundry and packing, the night before I moved to Somerville to start grad school.
    9/11. Dry Cleaner’s on the corner of St. Paul & Bank streets, picking up my outfit to lead the Hillel Rosh Hashanah service, the radio on, and the woman working there saying, “That can’t be right–they’re saying a plane flew into the World Trade Center.”
    Yes, those moments that tilt time off of its axis. I, too wonder what they will be for our kids. And I hope I’m here to find out.

  5. Yes, it’s true of these particular instances harboring a particular place in our memory.

    I worked at a law firm when the towers hit. We were in a high rise and I still remember the chill I felt when I first witnessed the towers fall.

    When Challenger crashed, I was getting ready for school. I recall feeling heartbroken and confused and worried. My mind immediately gravitated toward Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher who decided to embark on this mission.

    When Princess Di died, I was at home. When I heard of the news it reminded me of an earlier memory – I stayed up with my mother to watch the princess marry.

    Just like Jena, I hope that I am here for my daughter when these moments occur.

  6. Challenger: I was in Algebra II class, junior year of high school. I remember the principal came on the loud speaker to tell us what had happened. We all ran to the window to see – I loved in Florida at the time.

    Princess Diana: I was on Captiva Island, my first getaway with my new boyfriend (now husband). It was the middle of the night and we were up late, nursing head colds, flipping through channels, we stayed up all night.

    9/11: I was feeding my twin baby boys, sitting on the family room floor, one in my lap, the other in his boppy, staring at the television in complete shock. I will never forget…

  7. When the Chalenger exploded, I was driving home from class for lunch. When Princess Diana was in the accident, I was home alone getting ready for bed. When the attack on the World Trade Centers occurred, I was driving to work. I’m a bit older than you, . When Regan was shot, I was in the hallway at school in 8th grade. It was dismissal and someone was yelling through the school that the president was shot. Time stopped, indeed, the Earth tilted on its axis and nothing was ever the same.

  8. So true…I remember as a kid/teen-ager thinking my generation had such a “boring” experience- looking back we were in a relatively peaceful lull, at least from my safe cocoon and I honestly believed all of the terrible things were in the past. I could not have fathomed what our generation’s “thing” would be…so I worry/wonder about what things will define my kids’ generation.

    Challenger- 6th Grade Classroom, we all were watching on TV. I felt disconnected- how could that actually be happening? I had no experience with that kind of horror or even the possibility of that kind of horror.

    Princess Diana- Sitting at dinner at Barefoot in LA, a warm sultry evening. Dinner with my best friends and one of my best friend’s dad. We were sitting outside but could see the bar TV through the windows.

    9/11. I was living in LA and my cousin called and woke me up. Turned on TV to watch second plane/tower. I can picture my little studio in Santa Monica exactly, can almost remember the feeling of waking up- it was a heart-breakingly beautiful day in CA and I remember walking on the beach and wondering how two things could exist at the same time- beauty and absolute evil terror.

    What’s interesting about moments like this- not only can I remember where I was, but I can almost feel those moments, can feel what I felt then. More than a memory, almost like a time machine.

  9. Yes–fascinating topic. I think about this quite a lot, actually. I was spending my last day in my NY 6th grade classroom the day the Challenger exploded–we were moving to MA the next day. I think that memory is always particularly hard to swallow because of the double edged sadness for me that day. I was in my mother’s living room when I heard about Princess Diana, and on 9/11 I was standing in my apartment living room with wet hair and a robe getting ready for a job interview in Boston. I frantically called Eric, who’d just made it to Kendall Square via the T, pleading for him to come home. As I’m sitting here thinking about this, it almost seems related (but different) to something I wrote about last week–those immediate thoughts that we recall about our personal big milestones; what we cull specifically from the various life events, personal and communal. I wonder about the positive vs negative news–honestly, I have a harder time recalling the big positive things. Not so much the place, but the visceral feelings. Like when I found out I was pregnant or my husband proposed. Isn’t that strange? And slightly sad, I think. Now you’ve got me wondering why that is…

  10. Challenger, I was walking down the hall in my high school and I overheard two teachers talking about it. The announcement came soon after that. Princess Diana, I don’t remember. 9/11, I was teaching fifth graders outside of DC. There were rumors that there were more attacks planned, so parents were picking up students all day long. I will never forget the details of that day.

  11. I think about this too…and it’s interesting, I’ve been teaching so long that my current students have no memory of any of these events. Challenger: working as a green-haired barista Diana: crawling into bed after my brother-in-law’s rehearsal dinner 9/11: checking email on my way out the door to teach 8th grade…spent the day worried and feeling very, very isolated in my classroom.

  12. I talked to one of our babysitters last year about 9/11 and she described what it was like being in 4th grade at the time – that was a shock to me – it’s been a long time, despite feeling still immediate, and raw. xox

  13. The first chapter of my abandoned memoir was the moment of realizing I was pregnant with Grace -for me those details are vivid, bright, almost neon. I love that we’re so exactly the same age. xox

  14. Yes – the memories are so visceral it’s like we can BE back there. Interesting that you were in LA, which is where Matt called me from that morning. The world was just gloriously beautiful, coast to coast, as far as I can tell, as evil exploded in that crystalline blue sky.

  15. Oh, I have very vivid memories of the OJ Simpson car chase, too. Extraordinary to have been in New York on 9/11. And it gives me goosebumps when you say about jumping off a building. I still can’t look at those pictures.

  16. Challenger I was in my college dorm room watching in disbelief trying to wrap my head around what was happening. Princess Diana I was visiting my bf house with another good friend. We had just come in from a night out and heard the news. Heartbreaking. 9/11 I was at work again watching the news in disbelief and fear. Like they all just happened yesterday.

  17. You’re so right about these. I was too young when Challenger happened but I remember reading the paper in my parent’s kitchen the morning after Princess Di was killed and learning right there. It wasn’t otherwise a big moment, I read the paper like that all the time, but that morning, I remember. I was in college on 9/11, had gone to my first class at 8am and didn’t pay attention on the way to my second at 10. When I got there, nobody was there. A random professor who had stayed behind in the building told me to go home, that we were under attack. It was my third week living in DC and it was terrifying.

  18. I think we are maybe a year apart in age. Challenger I watched in school – they had wheeled in a TV on a stand and I remember thinking it couldn’t be right, those two cloud trails… Diana I don’t remember, but I do clearly remember JFK Jr. – I was sitting in the commuter terminal at LAX getting ready to get on a small plane. 9/11 we were on a cruise for our second anniversary, having gotten married 9-11-99. The captain came on the loudspeaker into the rooms(unusual) waking us. He said there had been “an attack” and as we turned on the TV Insaid to my husband with a cold certainty … Someone’s flown a plane into a building, I know it. A minute or so later my thought was confirmed as we watched the plane hit the tower.

  19. I try not to think about what those moments will be for my children, at least not the evil or sorrowful ones. I only hope that I’m with them or reachable somehow. Challenger: I think I was in 1st grade, so I only remember images, though I don’t recall if they were on TV or in the paper, and a vague sense of disbelief from my teachers and parents. Princess Diana: I was getting ready to start my freshman year at college but I was still home at that point and walked downstairs that morning to find my mom watching the news in a state of bewilderment. I also remember watching her funeral in the early morning in my best friend’s dorm room (or maybe it wasn’t that early but it felt early). 9/11: I was at a morning class in college and our professor turned on the TV when we began hearing commotion. I had spent the summer of 2000 in NYC interning at a small publishing house off Wall Street, and nearly every day I would meander in or around Trinity Church before walking over to the twin towers to eat my lunch outside. My memory of these walks is also nearly tangible.

    Joyful time-tilting-off-axis moments: the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, my daughter’s birth, the moment I found out I was pregnant for the second time, the moment we discovered we were having twins (I suppose this one was more astonishment than joy), and the moment(s) my boys were born.


  20. I am a decade older, but yes–I remember all of these. 9/11 most vividly. I was so focused on getting my toddler twins up and out the door (west coast), that I barely registered when the first plane hit. Even with the second, I paused for only a few moments. It wasn’t until we were in the car, driving down the highway, when I heard that a third plane had been headed for the Pentagon, that I began to grasp the import of what was happening. I wondered what it meant that it took so much to jolt me out of my existence, and how much else I was oblivious to. (As it turned out, a lot.)

  21. OH these three. I remember them all. Challenger, my mom brought in cupcakes to school for my birthday and we watched it on TV until a teacher turned it off. 9/11 I was in my apartment in San Diego, which overlooked the airport, and all the planes were still. Princess Di, I was camping in Sequoia National Park. I also remember Regan beign shot. I was at swim practice. And of course, we have Columbine too.

    On the plus side, I remember the royal wedding (Di and Charles) on TV (just back from camping) but that is IT. I remember all the great IPOs of the 90’s (which is weird right) and I remember when the Dow hit 10000. And I remember watching Joan Benoit win the first Olympic Marathon for women.

    What a great question – I wonder what my kids will remember. I asked Gus (age 6) to tell me what he remembered about the weekend and he told me his most memorable moment was when the bathtub almost overflowed.

  22. 1. The laundromat 2. ocean city MD 3. In my apartment getting ready to leave for college class. And yes, I also remember the OJ chase, the OJ verdict, and the JFK Jr. crash and Columbine. So interesting to think about.

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