I checked out a writing prompt and it directed me to reflect on history that I’ve been part of, or at least witnessed, and how it has impacted or changed me. I’m old enough to remember a few significant events in world history, and even more that don’t have quite so wide a circle of influence. Or is that even true?

When I was a kid, I remember the Moon landing. It was all over television, and I remember getting a vinyl record of the famous radio transmissions broadcast when the first steps on the Moon were taken. It amuses me no end to witness persistent rumbling that all of the NASA activity was falsified, and the entire thing was filmed on a movie sound stage. I can’t quite see how that could be, because people have loose lips and it would have taken a large number of people to pull off such a farce. The likelihood that none of them would talk or reveal a conspiracy seems very unlikely.

But I remember those moments, and I remember the mood of people around me changing after the astronauts had done the deed and returned to Earth. There was a bit of wonder, and even pride. Look what WE did! WE landed on the MOON! Never thought it was possible, but WE DID IT! I felt as though animosity was just a tiny bit less, tension a tiny bit less, and people suddenly had a common event to converse about, a positive and non-controversial event they could share.

On a lesser note, I remember when New Orleans got approval for an NFL franchise. People went absolutely wild, they were delighted and giddy, excited like Christmas morning. We all went through first training camp, first draft, first ticket sales. New Orleans has always had an incredible fan base, the most forgiving fans in the league. We all eagerly watched the first televised games, or proudly stormed the stadium (this was before the SuperDome). I remember one of the games I saw was between the Saints and the Detroit Lions, and the Saints lost 63-0. We were disappointed, but our excitement and pride was not diminished.

I’m not sure exactly how that works, and when victory becomes less an issue than shared experience. The Saints franchise has long been a less-than successful winning proposition, but that has never quelled the enthusiasm and loyalty of the fans. I have gone through more than half of my life with a losing NFL team, and losing alma mater (Tulane Green Wave), and it mattered not. The crime rate always went up just a hair following a Saints loss, but that only lasted as long as the hangovers. By Wednesday, things were back to normal and people were holding open doors for each other at churches all over town.

I wonder where that changes, where it becomes less good-natured and less about a game and becomes a matter of life and death. Where debate about the best player or the worst referee call becomes grounds for bodily harm. How does a difference of opinion like this result in homicide, or great bodily harm?

At somewhere near 8:30 a.m. on September 11, 2001 I was getting ready for work. There was no work-from-home option, so I was gulping down coffee and putting on my shoes in preparation for the short journey to my work site. Almost out of the corner of my eye I saw live television coverage about something I couldn’t quite make out. There was some energy behind it, somber voices were intoning, “This can’t be an accident, folks. A second plane has crashed into the World Trade Center, and this just can’t be an accident.”

I knew it was a big thing, and I bolted out of the apartment and got into my truck to proceed into the downtown area. Nothing seemed out of place, traffic was flowing normally, but the radio was tense. I immediately understood this was a moment in time beyond which nothing would be the same. It reminded me of the moments when the assassination of President Kennedy were announced, when the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. was announced. “This is a special report. President John F. Kennedy has been shot in Dallas.” “This is a special report. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has been assassinated in Memphis.” This is a special report – life has changed.

I only vaguely remember when Kennedy was assassinated. I was only three years old, but I more remember the solemn mood of people around me. I remember the incessant news reports that interrupted regular programming. I remember my parents and neighbors talking in serious tones about things. I remember the mood of people around me, a mood that begged silence, and demanded stillness.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed I remember the moment the broadcast television program was interrupted. I might be wrong, but I think it was “Gunsmoke” that my mother and I had been watching when the special report broke in. I heard the words, but I more distinctly remember my mother’s reaction. She was sitting up in bed, and I was curled up toward the bottom. She was reading something while the television droned, and when the announcement that King was dead had been spoken, she grabbed at her hair and went nearly stiff. A wail of dismay rushed out of her, and I had never heard that tone before. “AWWW! NO!”

Hearing my mother wail in this way frightened me just a little. I’d heard screaming and cussing and rage before, but not this kind of deep pain and emptiness. She immediately called someone, my grandmother or aunt perhaps, and I went back to coloring or whatever I was doing. I didn’t feel tremendously comfortable at that point, but was determined to stay out of the way. I guess my father was at work, but once he got home they conferred in dark, quiet tones at the kitchen table. I continued to work on my coloring book, but I was on alert and wasn’t sure what might happen next.

The point of these monumental moments in history isn’t so much about the event itself, but the reaction of the people impacted. That’s what ultimately memorializes things in your psyche, and that’s what makes the memory. When I’ve taken history classes, learning about Pompeii and the American Revolution was fascinating but I didn’t have that personal emotional response attached. I understood the significance of those events in the general scheme of world history, and how they contributed to my current reality, but I have only a mental place holder rather than an emotional one.

Because there is a difference between having a mental place holder vs. an emotional place holder, people are rarely moved by factual recounting of events. They become passionate about the emotional significance, and I suppose that’s why a disgruntled Saints fan might seriously contemplate homicide over a difference in opinion about game strategy. That probably holds true for the Popeye’s chicken sandwich as well since projecting the emotional response of a satisfying meal probably lights up the same areas of the brain.

Regardless, we’ve all been through some things. We all have feelings about such things, and how our reactions fit in with the reactions and emotions of others is like a serious game of Jenga. We fit together in bizarre ways, and it’s not for us to say how that works.

I love puzzles, but I must admit the bulk of the attraction lies in the victorious solution and not the process of solving it.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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