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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Defining Moments

Throughout generations of our history, there have been moments that define us. Events that are big enough to impact our history, as well as History with a capital "h," impress themselves on our minds very deeply and personally. I think that is why it isn't unusual to hear variations of a question that begins with the words, "Do you remember what you were doing when...?" For younger generations among us, the question is asked about the date of September 11, 2001, the date of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. People of all ages have very personal memories of how the day unfolded for them. I was very touched when I received the following message from my cousin Viki in Hungary in September of 2012. This is her message, with just a few minor corrections. 

My first days were at the university in September 2001. We had an opening ceremony on 11th September. It’s an important day in the life of a student, because since this ceremony a student is received into the „university-society”. Before that youth is just a visitor. So we were very excited, because at the end of the cermony students can shake hand with the President (He was Mádl Ferenc in 2001.), but only with white gloves. Everything was very ceremonial, I loved it. After a while, a person went to the President, whispered something into his ear, and both went away. The Vice Chancellor of our University sad: Mr Mádl had to go to Budapest because of a foreign affair. So there wasn't any handshake with him. It was our biggest problem then. We went back to the college. The whole building was very quiet. We didn't know, what could happened. I can remember to this moments, all the 500 elder students were sitting before the TV, said nothing, just sat mutely. Then we already saw the news. The first videos of the tragedy of 9/11. Some of the students cried. Everybody has information about terrorism, but it seemed to be more… We hadn't to go to lessons that day. We sat before the TV whole day…
Katrina, I didn't know you then, but I think we felt commiseration with America. I saw more documentary films about 9/11 this week, and I decided to tell you, that we feared for American people.

I still find it touching and humbling to know that the rest of the world mourned along with us. It is a good reminder that we are all a part of the greater community, the human family.

As the calendar rolls around to the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, those of us who are a bit older are recalling our experiences related to that terrible event on November 22, 1963. Trent was eight years old, and remembers his mother talking seriously with him about what had happened as he was eating his after-school peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It's impressed on his mind forever. As for me, since I was only four, I don't have any memories of the assassination itself, but I have very clear memories of the Presidential funeral. I was playing on the living room floor, and my mother was sitting on the sofa watching the television. I remember that there was someone leading a horse with a saddle, and boots that were backwards in the stirrups. My mother was openly weeping, and I don't think I had ever seen her that way before. I was worried, and asked her why she was crying. She told me that a very good man had died, and that she was very sad. Again, a very intense experience, and imprinted on my brain forever.

Many years later, Gram told me that she was shopping at a supermarket with her daughter-in-law when an announcement was made over the public-address system in the store that the President had been assassinated. They were naturally upset, finished their business, and went home as quickly as possible. When Gram came in the house, she picked up the mail that had been delivered. She was distracted and barely gave it a glance before tossing it on the table. She noticed a large envelope that said The White House, and didn't give it much thought. She said she thought it was an advertisement from a new dry cleaning service or something. After her emotions had calmed down, she decided to go through her mail, and found that the envelope was from the actual White House. I'm a little bit fuzzy about the details, but it had something to do with her deceased husband. I think she said it was some sort of commendation for his Army service many years prior. That detail left less of an impression on my mind than the incredible coincidence of the delivery date. But it was part of Gram's very personal memories of the date.

I invite you to share any memories you have of this or any other important dates and events, and their impact on you, with your friends and family. We all learn from one another, and our history (and History!) is always growing and developing. Our stories add a dimension that history books alone can't provide. It's important to know and remember that history happens to and effects everyone. We may not see ourselves as important, but our combined experiences weave and interlock and enrich us all. They are our legacy and our History.