For me, the passage of time is uneven. It is as if my whole life is a passage of events, as if time travels in a herky-jerky fashion. And what heralds time’s passing are key events, caught in my mind like specimens caught in amber.
Each generation has its moments. Events that are forever caught in the collective memories and that changed who the collective was and would be. My mother told me of her “JFK moment.” That moment in high school chemistry when she learned her President had been shot. I don’t have a JFK moment. But I have others. Other moments that changed my timeline and in doing so, changed me. The moments that I look back and think of as the bits and pieces of my life.
- Holding a shoe box to my eye in order to watch the total solar eclipse over the Pacific Northwest on February 26, 1979. My teacher told me the next one would not happen until August 21, 2017. The ABC newsman, Frank Reynolds, said afterwards “May the shadow of the moon [in 2017] fall on a world of peace.” We have only six years to go people…six years.
- Standing in my yard as the ash started to fall after the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens not quite 300 miles southwest of my home. The sky seemed a solid wall boiling towards us; a wall of roiling and rolling things that when they arrived cut our skin and lungs. The old farmhouse on the hill near us turned an alien silver as if everything I had ever known was a lie. The Emergency Alert System had no answers for us. All those noon-time sirens and no one could tell us what to do with all the ash falling everywhere.
- On January 28, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded over our heads and on our televisions. I must have been in a non-space-loving classroom, because I didn’t see it happen at the moment. Only over and over again in the news. It was a moment when we all lost something. Not just a social studies teacher who was a wife and mother. Not just the six other members of her crew who were the centers of other people’s lives as well. We all lost a bit of our American swagger. When the United States buried the remains of those seven citizens, part of our dream of space was buried as well.
- June 4, 1989 a young man dressed in a white shirt and black pants stood in front of a line of four tanks in Tiananmen Square. It is a story of mystery which is perhaps best. For when an unknown person stands up for what is right, regardless of personal cost, we all can identify–at least to some small extent–the power of standing up for one’s self.
- On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came down. I was sitting in the cafeteria at Trinity College, in Carmarthen, Wales when a buzzing started, gained speed, volume and clarity until the words flew loudly — “The Berlin Wall has fallen!” My lunch was chips, peas, a pasty, and tears. I had practiced “nuclear fall-out drills” and never dreamed the end of the Cold War would happen. Of course, the Wall was only one domino that fell. But it was a domino I never thought would tumble.
- On a sunny day, May 20, 1995, I ducked my head and my Masters of Arts in Teaching hood was placed across my shoulders. It was my third graduation ceremony–high school, my bachelor’s, and now my master’s. But this was the ceremony that truly meant the most to me. Not only did the conferring of my MAT open the door for me to be a teacher, but it was proof positive of a huge aspect of my personality. I am a student. I love being challenged with new ideas. I love the give and take in the classroom. That piece of paper, that mortar board, that black and light blue hood all evidenced the role that life long learning plays for me.
- I was introducing a short story to a group of ninth graders. Some were bored, some were lost, some were interested. The phone rang. On September 11, 2001 the faces of those students were burned into my mind as some wept, some sat in shock, some became angry. One young girl glared at me from the back of the room. The second desk from the row’s end, by the window. Her fingernails tapping on her desk. “How is this going to change anything for me?” she asked me. Everything. Everything changed that day for her and everyone else.
- I don’t remember the weather on November 4, 2008 but I do remember my then eight year old son’s face as he asked what it meant. My husband and I couldn’t give him a complete answer because the lasting meaning of the election of Barack Obama will not be known until far, far in the future. However, the election as President of the United States of America of a non-white United States citizen, raised by a single mother and his grandparents, and who achieved an education through hard work and determination is what might mean the most to my son and children. It is the validation of what many US parents tell their children: that any child can be anything he or she dreams of here in the United States.
Every year there are the bits and pieces that stop and start the passage of time for me. These are just the few I have in common with others who live near me.
My time as a whole person includes so much and yet none of it is smooth. Instead, I lurch along. Waiting for the weekends, the holidays, the times of great expectations. It seems my days slow down and speed up as if the string that is my life unwinds at an uneven pace. I just pray that when the rings on my tree of life are viewed, there are more moments where I stopped. Not for great sadness or tragedy, but that I stopped to cherish the moments of joy. For a life is made of it all. The good, the bad. The happy, the terribly sad. The challenge is to pause longer on the good moments than on the painful.
“When I’m 60, maybe, I’ll look at my pile of papers and wonder, What really happened that year?” ~Christa McAuliffe
May the words of Christa McAuliffe inspire you to live this year, fully and without regrets. Live so that when looking back you smile. Live so that the moments you remember are many.