Certain experiences and events which transpire in our lives seem to resonate within our collective sense of time and space much more than other memories. I assume this has been true for all of mankind throughout our passage of time on this earth. Thus, the day which broke clear and bright on Sept. 11, 2001, containing – as all days do – such great promise for 300 million Americans, quite suddenly, within a few hours after witnessing sunrise, irrevocably turned brutal and tragic. It forever created a relevant, collective benchmark experience in our nation’s history.
All Americans share in the pain wrought by the experiences of that day, whether they witnessed them directly in the actual locations where the momentous events of 9/11 occurred or found ourselves relevantly linked to them as they hauntingly transpired in real time on television. The day awakened memories of other historic events in my lifetime, which in and of themselves wrote similar chapters in the collective and assimilated experiences of “we the people of the United States.”
The first such national event I possess real time awareness occurred on Nov. 22, 1963, another day that seemingly began bright and clear, with hope and promise. That historic day and the corresponding week that followed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy hold distinct memories for me. Much of what I recall is observing the effect of the assassination on my parents and other adults. The same collective emotional uncertainty and tragedy that accompanied the death of a young president in 1963, I again experienced on 9/11, sharing it with all citizens – both young and old – across our nation. This early childhood memory remains accompanied by the haunting drumbeat of the death march and the prancing grace of a horse named Blackjack, who carried upon his back the empty saddle, inverted boots and sword of a fallen leader.
It sometimes appears that the historic events shared as “we the people” always involve tragedy – possessing painful and bitter adverse effect on the lives of individuals and families. Our lives are marked by many wars and conflicts, more assassinations of promising leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, or landmark catastrophic natural events like Hurricane Katrina or the paths of devastation cut by the tornados upon our nation’s heartland just this year.
Not all nationally significant events carry tragic overtones. I retain the excitement and wonder experienced on the night of July 20, 1969, when I peered at the small, 13-inch black-and-white television and watched Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin make a “giant leap for mankind,” the first of our species to walk on the moon.
Not all shared national experiences are negative, although they may well be accompanied by brutality and bitterness. They each possess opportunity to advance the human condition. Within my lifetime we have experienced the self-evident truth of “civil rights,” the election of an African-American to our highest national office and the continued advancement of one of our nation’s truly best ideas — the National Park System. These are good things, which in some way, shape or form have been touched by the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
The 10-year anniversary of 9/11 will touch each of us in personal ways. However, the experience also binds us together, for we share it and a world influenced from its carnage and destruction.
From this old Civil War battlefield (Shiloh), I reflect on the relevancy of this 10-year anniversary to the emotional memories my great-great grandfather may have experienced on April 6, 1872. He reflected upon the momentous time his life “was touched by fire” in the carnage witnessed a decade earlier at Shiloh.
I find comfort in linkage of time and place and hope all people do.
— Stacy D. Allen