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?