I was 9 years old on January 28th, 1986, in Mrs. McMullen’s third grade class. We had one of those awful pods where five classes had been crammed into a giant room, separated by dividers. But there weren’t any dividers that day. The teachers had pushed them all over to the wall so we could turn in our seats to view the tiny television set up over in Mrs. Davis’s room. We were all excited, because we were going to watch the space shuttle Challenger take off.
Now, some of you reading this knew where I was going as soon as you read the date. Because you, too were somewhere on January 28th 1986. You, too, remember exactly what you were doing. Because your lives were marked by that moment. Even if you were personally unaffected by the deaths of the six astronauts and one courageous school teacher, you knew its significance. Your life was thereafter identified by ‘before’ and ‘after’ the explosion. And in recalling that moment, you doubtless recalled other such moments of demarcation, some personal, some very public. JFK’s death. Elvis’s. Nixon’s resignation. The assassination attempt on Reagan. September 11th 2011.
Without prompting, I can tell you that I sat in the middle pod, that even though the teachers closed the curtains, I could barely see the TV because the sun glared through the window right behind it, and that I knew exactly what had happened when the shuttle broke apart, even though they turned down the sound right away. We only watched for a few minutes after that. The principal said something unmemorable over the loudspeaker, the dividers went back up, and we tried to have a normal rest of the day. Except that normal had shifted in a way all of us could feel.
My kids were both born to a post 9/11 world. And so far no disaster has shaken either of their roots to the point of memory. Although Caroline was alive during hurricane Katrina, she was two, and we lived in Lexington, Kentucky. Her preschool class gave all their tzedakah money to the survivors, and she understood what happened at the time, but she doesn’t remember it. And several events in both of my kids’ childhoods have changed them, but they are all personal events, rather than public ones. So they do not yet share with their friends, or even each other, a point of before and after when normal became something else. But it will come. And when it does it will mark us as a family. It will mark us again as a nation.
*Caroline attended Gan Shalom Preschool at the Ohavay Zion synagogue in Lexington, Kentucky. I can’t say enough wonderful things about the program. Among other things, the kids collected tzedakah money, money for charity, and used it to send help those in need.
That’s nice, Jessie, but now I’m distracted. Take me back to where I was.
This post is for the Write On Edge Surprise Prompt featuring a desolately beautiful shuttle launch photo. That pictures is actually from 1999, but I thought immediately of 1986. I have not yet read the other submissions, but I fully expect to see a lot of Challenger memories, because it is January, and because most of us are old enough to remember.