Twenty-five years ago, the way we view public tragedy changed. It seemed like everyone in the US watched – children and adults alike – as the Challenger space shuttle prepared, counted down, lifted off and then exploded. We were shocked, saddened and just didn’t know what to think. Tragedy unfolded on the television for all of us to see. Newscasters became sudden grief counselors, trying to help us process what had just happened. Teachers had to try to explain to entire classes of children why the shuttle was on fire and what happened to the people inside. As a nation, we processed our dismay and grief together, via television, newspaper and radio.
For those of us who saw the Challenger explode, we will never forget where we were. I was in Mrs. Johnson’s 2nd grade class. I loved her as a teacher, partly because she was a great teacher, but partly because she and her husband owned a Baskin Robbins and I got free ice cream every time I went in! Our classroom was attached to the other 2nd grade by an accordion wall. That day, the wall was opened, a tv rolled in on a cart and we were all going to watch together. It was always a treat to do stuff like that, so we knew it was going to be an exciting day.
I remember sitting on the floor – that cheap, commercial tile that is found in so many schools, medical facilities and church fellowship halls. It’s inexpensive and easy to clean. I remember the tv cart and how it was situated. I remember the layout of our classroom and even some of the lessons/activities from that year. What I don’t remember, is actually watching the liftoff and explosion.
I’ve seen re-runs many times. I just don’t remember the actual live event. Interesting how our brains work.
And interesting that my kids don’t even have a clue what I’m talking about when I mention the Challenger space shuttle. It’s an event that greatly impacted our nation, but kids today don’t have that memory. It’s the same way with the JFK assassination. My parents and grandparents can remember where they were that day. I wasn’t even born yet. It’ll be the same way with 9/11. I remember where I was, but my youngest children weren’t even born yet. I get sad to think that their generation will probably have a defining event too.
Does each generation really HAVE to have a defining tragedy? I hope not. Yet, maybe it’s okay that they do. Defining tragedies have a way of bringing a nation together – even if it’s only for a short time. We come together in our grief, our shock and our efforts to remember, honor and make things better. While we don’t hope for tragedy, I do think that there are good things that rise from the ashes.
What defining tragedy do you remember? Where were you when the Challenger exploded? What have you done to come together with others and bring good from sadness?