by Trish Milburn
It's our policy here at the Romance Bandits not to discuss politics on our blog. It's one of those hot-button topics that can turn friends against each other, and that's the last thing we want. I say this up front because when I mention Barack Obama's recent election as at the 44th president of the United States, I don't want anyone thinking I'm starting a political discussion. In fact, I want to talk about it in a historical context, and how there are certain times in our lives when we are truly witnesses to big moments in history, good and bad.
I had that witnessing-history feeling at 10 p.m. Central Time on Nov. 4 when the TV network I was watching announced that based on the vote tallies in the closing polls in the West Coast states, Barack Obama had been elected the next president. Not only the first black man to be elected to the top office in the land but the first minority of any kind. It wasn't huge because of the switching of political parties in the White House, but rather the fact that the country had come far enough to elect someone whose skin color at one time in our history might have made him a slave. I heard members of both political parties acknowledge what a huge moment this was for our country, how it was a positive step for our country's evolution.
In the days since the election, I've thought about other big moments in history I remember during my lifetime. I was born the year after man landed on the moon, so I have no memory of that huge event, or the Kennedy assassination or even the Vietnam War. In fact, the first big news story I remember was the Iran hostage crisis. I was 9 and 10 years old during the 444 days the U.S. diplomats were held captive. All I remember is seeing the day count on the news each night. The evening news always seemed to start the same way, just with a different number day.
Two months after that crisis ended, the new president, Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinckley Jr., and barely survived. I remember my fourth-grade class being ushered across the hall into another classroom that had a TV so we could watch news coverage. It was just odd to watch this type of thing on the same TV that usually brought us episodes of The Electric Company and Nova. I was still young enough that going into that other classroom is basically all I remember.
It was a different case entirely when I was 15. That January, I watched in horror as the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after takeoff. It was shocking and incredibly sad. It would have been horrible no matter which astronauts were on board, but the tragedy hit an extra sad chord because of the loss of Christa McAuliffe, who was selected from more than 11,000 applicants to be the first teacher in space. It seemed incredibly wrong that these modern-day explorers died trying to explore space for the rest of us, and some before they'd even had the joy of seeing Earth from space.
Thankfully, the next big historical moment I remember is a positive one, when the Berlin Wall came down in late 1989. In high school, I took three years of German, and I remember having a T-shirt that said Deutschland on it and a map that clearly showed a divided Germany. The wall came down during my first semester in college, reuniting families that had been separated for 28 years. Germany had been divided my entire life. I remember in the years to follow, I'd sometimes see people claim they had a chunk of the wall. It was kind of like when people had little bags of ash that came from Mt. St. Helen's after it exploded in 1980.
While I have memories of all of these events, the first historic moment where I can say specifically where I was when it happened was the first attack of Sept. 11, 2001. I had just arrived at work and was near the breakroom when one of my co-workers came in the front door and said, "Did you all hear a plane just hit the World Trade Center?" Thinking it was an horrible accident, we filed into the conference room and turned on the TV. I can still remember the numbness and disbelief when it became apparent that it wasn't an accident, rather something much, much worse. I worked at a magazine, and we were on deadline. Even so, we'd work for a few minutes, then come back to the TV. The day just got more unbelievable as it went on.
I know that for the first several space shuttle missions after the Challenger explosion, people inside and outside NASA were nervous each time a new mission launched. We held our collective breath and prayed for the safety of all the astronauts on board. But over time, we all got used to regular shuttle missions again, and much of the anxiety went away. The launches even began to not make big news anymore.
That all changed with yet another tragedy when the the Space Shuttle Columbia broke up on re-entry after a mission in February 2003. I remember sitting in my den listening to the newscasters talking about how Mission Control had lost contact with the shuttle, thinking, "Oh, no, not again," praying that it was just a communications problem and that the shuttle would appear on the screen, intact and safe. But when the debris appeared in the sky, I cried. I didn't know these people, but it was heartbreaking nonetheless. And again, there was a first among the casualties -- Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut.
I wish more of the big, historic moments in my memory were ones of joy instead of sadness, but even before my time I think it was that way. Events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the stock market crash of 1929 that led to the Great Depression.
But there are positive historical moments too -- the moon landing, the end of World War II, the passage of the Civil Rights Act. And so I'd like to come full circle and leave with a positive image, one that hopefully heralds a new era in which race relations in America will only improve.
What about you? What are some of the big history-making moments you've witnessed? Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when they happened?