Life is made up of milestones, moments in time we remember in detail. Many times these moments change the course of history like the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor the morning of 7 December 1941. Sometimes these moments change how we look at our society such as the assassinations of President John F Kennedy (22 November 1963) or Dr. Martin Luther King (4 April 1968). Sometimes these moments signify the end of a bad time in our society like 20 January 1981, or the beginning of something new and wonderful like Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. At other times, these moments signify the end of an era like 9 November 1989.
What were you doing on …
- … 20 January 2009, when the first black president was sworn into office?
- … 1 February 2003, when the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on its landing approach?
- … 11 September 2001, when the world trade towers fell?
- … 25 December 1991, when the Soviet Union dissolved?
- … 9 November 1989, when the Berlin wall came down?
- … 12 June 1987, when Reagan gave his “ … tear down this wall!” speech?
- … 28 January 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on takeoff?
- … 30 March 1981, when President Ronald Reagan was shot (first president shot since JFK)?
- … 20 January 1981, when the Iranian hostages came home?
- … 9 August 1974, when President Nixon resigned (first presidential resignation in history)?
- … 4 April 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated?
- … 20 July 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon?
- … 22 November 1963, when President John F Kennedy was assassinated?
Some dates are shared by the world, some by just one nation, others by just one family or group of friends. Whatever the event, worldwide or personal, the memories tied to that event are personal and involve our family and friends.
Two events from my family’s collective memories mark the beginning and the end of the 1960’s.
Anyone who has parented, baby-sat, or stood in line behind a two-year-old boy knows they are in constant motion. Little boys seem to be grabbing, pushing, pulling, and throwing everything within their grasp; and telling everyone and no one in particular, about it while they are in action. Sleep is the only thing that seems to arrest their verbal and physical assault on the world.
This fall afternoon in the early 1960’s began like so many others. My father was at work, my mother was busy in the kitchen, and I was in my playpen in the living room. The TV was on nearby while I trashed about safely in my playpen exercising my vocal cords. Suddenly all was quiet, my mother rushed into the living room to see what had happened.
She found me standing quietly in my playpen in the corner absorbed by the equally quiet TV. She followed my gaze and saw a black screen with the following words in white, “We interrupt this program for an important announcement.” Next, she saw Walter Cronkite tears flowing as he looked into the camera.
“President John F. Kennedy was just shot in Dallas, Texas …”
My mother still tells the story of how her 22-month-old son told her the president was assassinated. The next event was the culmination of nearly a decade of work by thousands of people, the completion of a goal set by President Kennedy.
My bedtime at age seven was 7 pm; this particular evening was no different. What was different was that by the time I had fallen asleep; my parents were waking me up and bringing me down stairs to watch TV for a few minutes before putting me back into bed. I was not very happy about this at the time I was tired. Again, the master of ceremonies was Walter Cronkite, an excited and happy Walter Cronkite.
However, unlike the earlier Cronkite appearance, Walter shared the airtime; the other person was dressed in a white suit that made him look like the Pillsbury doughboy and clumsily walking across a dessert. This other image was not very good quality either. Soon after we heard, “… one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind …” I was sent back to bed.
Throughout our lives, we confront events that sometimes shape who we are, and sometimes proclaim to the world who we have become. Many of the events in our lives we cannot control, but how we respond to them we do control. Those reactions that seem to contradict our experience, or place others above ourselves are the moments that define our character. When you trust a stranger, when previous strangers have proved their unworthiness to be trusted, when you share your last dollar with a beggar on the street at a time when you do not know where your own next meal will come from; that is the moment when you build your own character.
Have you ever found a small child left alone in a car at the mall? What did you do? Did you make a comment to yourself or companion and continue on your way? Did you call the police and wait for them to arrive? You do not know the circumstances that put that child in the car alone. It could be a parent shopping for new shoes that left that child, or it could be the first time in days that the child has finally slept and the parent is getting medicine from the pharmacy for the child; most likely the reason is somewhere in between. The best reaction may be to keep the car in sight, looking out for the child, until the parent gets back. You do not have time for that you say. No, but you have time to wait for the police. That haggard look on the young mother’s face may be from partying all night the night before, it may be she has not had any sleep the last several days as she walked the floor with a sick child.
What you do and why you do it is a combination of things; your personal experience, personal knowledge, the environment under which you grew to adulthood. However, there is also a part of you that is inherited; we are not talking DNA (though that may be part of it). There are things families share from generation to generation that scientists cannot explain (but they are trying). Years after my maternal grandfather died, I am still finding things I have in common with him.
My grandfather started his adult life before most people do. He joined the navy, wanted to be an architect, worked on the railroad, and eventually worked for himself. He lost a daughter, was married twice, and along the way he collected coins, became a great observer and respecter of people. He always had a paperback in his back pocket when he left the house and wore a snap-brim hat in public. He drew beautiful sketches for the rest of his life, all but a few never survived. Bernerd E. Goodykoontz also had one daughter with his second wife when he was middle-aged.
I never saw my grandfather in public; he was retired when I came along. Except for the work on the railroad and the coin collecting I never knew those things about my grandfather. The coin collecting I found out about after I painstakingly put together a birth year coin set for him (it was expensive for a ten year old he was born in 1905). All the other things I found out about after he passed away. All of those things I have in common with my grandfather every single one (except the railroad). Some may say, “That’s DNA”, but DNA does not explain all of it. It also does not explain why the Goodykoontz men going back 250 years (in my direct line) became fathers in their 40’s and 50’s (Bernerd was the exception, he was 38 years old when my mother was born).
The most striking difference between my grandfather and me was that he kept his personal life hidden inside, while I hide very little, if anything, of myself. We were even of the same physical stature (his suits fit me without additional tailoring).
Here is my point. You are important. Regardless of the particulars of your birth, you were no accident. Someone in the future, one of your descendents, will take an interest in you. It may not even be a direct descendent, it could be a descendent of a brother, sister, or even a cousin, but someone will take an interest. They will identify with you; they will see you in themselves.
At a point in their lives when life seems to have given them a rotten apple, they will draw encouragement from you. They will look to you to discover how to handle their predicament. Maybe they will look to see what they should do, or see what did not work for you, but they will look up to you. That connection that they feel with you will also give them a sense of belonging in the world; you will make them feel like family, even if they were orphaned at a young age. You will give them the strength to continue, when so many others have simply given up.
Give that person a chance; give them the encouragement they deserve. Talk with that person; record your voice for them, or write a letter. Tell them “what you were doing when …”, tell them about your daily life, the things you love and the things that irritate you. The things you say may not seem like much to you, but it will be worth more than silver and gold to them. Though you will never get a chance to meet that person, you may just be the only person who can help them in their hour of need.
5 responses to “What Were You Doing When …?”
My children already do listen and learn from me as well as me from them. I hope my descendants listen to me also.
As far as the child in the car at the mall, I am sorry, that is now against the law and is considered negligence. I saw too much of stuff like that when I was teaching. I would have to call the police.
I wish I saw things more black & white, my life would be easier. My wife (next-ex), mother and several of my friends are teachers also. Negligence? I remember a little boy who was taken from his parents for negligence (their crime was something that was normally done when I was a boy). The courts placed him in foster care. When the police broke into the closet he was inside he was dead. The foster parents were not home at the time, they were at King’s Island amusement park. Maybe his parents left him a car alone for a few minutes, but they did not starve him, lock him in a closet, and go to an amusement park.
Then there is a friend at work, his in-laws are foster parents. There is a multi-racial boy they have had 4 different times. They keep trying to adopt him, but the system keeps giving him back to his mother. Each time they get him he is unwashed, hungry, and wearing dirty clothes. His dad (unlike the dads of his other siblings) tries to pay his child support. When his dad gets a new job he catches up on back child support (that is when his mother wants him back). When his dad is out of work is when he usually ends up in foster care. The last time he was put in foster care his mother was stopped for driving erratically (she has a record of drug offenses) and not one of her 4 kids was in a child safety seat or booster seat. They didn’t test her, they just put the kids back into foster care. A few months later they were back with her.
You see I do not trust the system, with good cause. My oldest daughter was born premature and lived her entire life in my arms, all 93 minutes. I raise money for the March of Dimes so that other premies have a chance my oldest daughter did not have. I talk with parents who have just lost a child. I have also seen what 4 years of recession has done to the families in this country (I am part of that group). I know I am over protective of Elizabeth, and that is probably because of her older sister Alexandra; so I never have to worry about being accused of negligence. But I see what families are having to deal with while wondering if they will still have a house next month or a job next week.
I met that exhausted mother with red eyes, slumped shoulders, and worries that made her look 20 years older. She had the bag from the pharmacy in her hands. She also had fear in her face when I asked about her daughter. She quickly showed me the tag on the bag so I could see it was for her daughter. And with fear in her voice quickly told me her story. I am glad that I waited for the mother before I called the police. Would this sick little girl been better off in foster care? Would her mother have been better off in prison? I do not think so.
Don’t think for a moment that I don’t understand what you are saying. I am not cruel and I love to see families together. My daughter was a premie too. I understand that part also. She lived but was born with pneumonia, so we did live with the thought she might die very soon. She just finished her PH.D and I am ecstatic for her success in life. Here is the thing. I will admit that the situation would have a lot to do with it. In my hometown, at the local pharmacy, yes, I imagine I would go in, ask questions, and so on. I worry about the larger cities and such. Children are so often looked upon as just things to people, even to their parents, sometimes. You are right about that particular mother. I could well be wrong if I called the police. But, I would not simply wait outside for the parent to come out. I would have to do something. Life is almost never black and white; those two colors together make gray. That’s the world. I like the discussion, but hope I haven’t lost a blogging friend here. Never my intent. I just know what I would think if problems happened because I didn’t do something. Does that make any sense?
Makes total sense, and I never thought you were heartless. I did actually do more than wait, but my comment was already “book length” so I was trying to keep it short. I am so VERY happy for your daughter and your family. Every time I hear about a new test or procedure to help premies (thanks to March of Dimes) I always look up, wink, and say “That’s you baby girl, you helped make that happen.”
As for a friendship, nothing to worry about there. For one thing I think we are on the same page with this. But also I have a few friends that about the only thing we agree on is that we respect each other LOL.
One other thing … that mother was afraid enough I don’t think she will do that again any time soon … and that’s a good thing.
Ah, all that is what I truly wanted (needed) to hear. I am glad Mom was scared. Those are the good parents. They think ahead.
Yeah, I think we are on the same page.
Here’s to differences!