The Moments that Define History

I warn you, that today, the 25th Anniversary of the Challenger Tragedy, that I'm feeling long winded. I'm also actually experiencing these flashbacks, remembering what it was like that fateful day for this ten year old kid. You see, space flight in America was still treated twenty-five years ago as a huge deal. The shuttle launches were broadcast live on dozens of networks, and NASA worked with schools to give children a chance to see this. As children, we were excited by this, we loved the break from normal that led us to sit in home room longer, with a grainy TV across the room, the words of mission control coming through those old tinny speakers.

LTC Dick Scobee - NASA

On that day, seven people "slipped the surly bonds of Earth, to touch the face of God" (not my words, hence the quotes, but taken from the poem High Flight). The world was a different place then, as a group of ten year old kids sat and watched the Challenger, with only the sound of mission control and LTC Dick Scobee, the shuttle commander, to tell us what was going on. In that day, news broadcasters didn't feel like they needed to talk constantly, didn't need to constantly explain the events that were unfolding right in front of you. On that day, it was a teacher, and twenty-five or so ten year old kids, that witnessed tragedy. In that day, it was on the teachers to help the children in their room understand what was taking place in the world. That day defines history for so many people of my age group. That day is, for many of the people I've talked who are of a similar age to me, the moment when tragedy is defined. Doesn't every age group have that though? It seems like at some moment during your formative years, there is an event that defines the world around, an event that teaches you, at ten years old, at twelve years old, at sixteen years old, what it means to witness tragedy. The events of April 20, 1999, defined tragedy for a generation of high school and middle school students. They changed the way our schools operate and the way we live. This defined tragedy for hundreds of thousands of school-aged children across North America who had never dealt with it before. April 19, 1995, four years earlier, the Alfred P. Murray building attack left 168 people dead, and was the talk of every news organization, introducing another group of young adults to the tragedy of this world. February 28, 1993, a standoff in Waco, Texas, took over our television sets. August 2, 1990, Iraq invades Kuwait. Even at the age of 15 I knew war wasn't far off, and I worried for the friends who had graduated high school and joined the military. December 21, 1988, a tragedy happens over Lockerbie, Scotland. The timeline of history is littered with the events that teach children tragedy, that shatter the protective bubble that parents, teachers, and the other adults in our lives have struggled so much to build. Each and every group of high school students eventually suffers this fate, the ending of innocence. Tiananmen Square, Beirut Bombing, the attempted assassinations of John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, Tangshan Earthquake, Munich Olympics...

I don't know why this focus on such tragedy today, except that it seems to me that as we move forward in history we do the children of our country, of our world, a greater disservice each time one of these tragedies occurs. Each time it's more information, more quickly than before, and more graphic in nature. No longer do we help our nation deal with things like this, but rather we share information that doesn't need to be out there, in rapid fire methods, describing the ballistics of a gun that are responsible for a killing, or talking about the ways in which certain types of fuel burn. No longer do we spend the time educating children in all of things that they need to know. There are things that every child needs to learn, and at some point in their life that includes learning how to deal with tragedy. On the other hand, they also need to learn compassion and caring, self-discipline and motivation. They need to see that even though there is tragedy in the world, there is good. They need to see great people doing great things, in a selfless manner; Gandhi, Mother Theresa, John Paul, Bono, and other people who give their lives to good works, to charity, to love. Too often the moments that define our lives are tragic, and that we raise children in such a manner is sad to me. That so much information is available too easily, nearly instantly, on the internet, on our cell phones, is tragic to me. That unfiltered information is broadcast in a lewd, unproductive, and biased manner, is tragic to me. The world has always suffered through tragedy, and each generation, each high school graduating class, will have a defining tragedy in their lives. That though, isn't the real tragedy. The real tragedy is that in tragedy, one of life's most important lessons is learned, and that our media, and many parents, are failing to teach their children that lesson. Through challenge, we persevere. Through strife, we fight. Through tragedy, we learn triumph. So why do I write today, to an audience with so many parents in it. That's simple. I write today to remind you, teach your children that together, as a race of people, we can triumph over anything. Teach your children that despite the horrific earthquake in Haiti, people together, from around the world, still strive to rebuild that nation. Teach your children, that although the television only tells them about war, that in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, brave men and women are building schools, homes, churches, and roads. Teach your children that together, hand in hand with the people of other nations, all around this planet, that good work is being done. Teach your children that hard work, perseverance, and genuine love, ultimately triumph in the end, regardless of what they see on TV. Each generation will have their defining tragedy. The media will see to that. It's on us though to make sure that each generation has their defining triumph, and it's on us to make sure that our children remember that triumph as much, or more, than that tragedy.


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