Still waiting for our victory
Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, April 19, 2007
Anyone old enough to speak coherently at the time still remembers the moment, over forty years ago, when they heard about JFK’s assassination. Our grandparents can tell us how they listened to the radio accounts of Pearl Harbor on a December day, more than six decades gone. Every single one of us here at Notre Dame can recall where we were on the day of Sept. 11, 2001 – what we were doing, how the horribly tragic events of that morning unfolded for us and our personal feelings on the matter. Any time someone shares a personal story of That Day, I’m always amazed at the details people recall.
I remember listening to Paul Harvey’s show on my AM radio while driving to school when he announced the first plane crash. I remember talking about it with my friend before the start of first-hour Biology, and I remember the girl who came in and told us the other tower had been hit. I remember conversations I had that day, things different teachers said and talking with my grandparents in the evening. That was my experience, half a country away, without a personal connection to anyone involved. The mass media of the past century gave rise to a new, shared cultural experience, a common reference point that breaches distance and background: the generation-defining event.
When we hear 9/11 described this way, it is absolutely on-target.
This week, we have another national tragedy. News of the massacre at Virginia Tech on Monday spread like wildfire throughout both national and international outlets, even reaching most of us studying abroad in Europe within the hour. We learned of the catastrophe over television stations, through quickly formed Facebook groups, on Internet news sites and during instant messaging conversations. Solid facts came slowly, but no report could sanitize away the fear, confusion, anger, torrential grief and host of other emotions that assault us all in such times.
This is the great curse of our generation’s hyper-awareness and the awesome power of modern media. We cannot escape the sentiments swirling around the tragedies, and they cannot remain anonymous or distant to us. It is hard to ignore the images of grown men and women crying as dead college students are carried away, the surreal sounds of gunshots being fired on a peaceful college campus or the first-hand accounts of courage and action during the Virginia shootings. I hesitate to compare this with 9/11; the numbers, circumstances, impact, source, scope and means are worlds apart. Yet both incidents serve to painfully remind us that these events always seem to be associated with sorrow, tragedy and death.
The events of Monday, though still fresh in my mind, will probably not stick with me as do those of 9/11. Sadly, the thousands of students and faculty and staff connected with the university, the thousands of parents worrying at home and the thousands of residents in the surrounding community don’t have that luxury of separation. For them, this will become a “where were you when…” event. Monday will haunt their minds and stay with them for the duration of their lives. Healing can take place, and God willing, can come soon, but memories of all the little details from Monday will stick. Meanwhile, the rest of us are stuck asking ourselves: How many more of these “defining” events can we plan on seeing in the coming years and decades? And when can we expect one judged not by the body count or human toll, but by the rewards and human joy brought about?
Some may say any event that becomes constantly discussed, like 9/11, does not develop its crystalline clarity in the moments of its occurrence, but rather slowly cements itself during the constant regurgitation of facts and satellite details in the months and years following. Even if this were the case, we are still left empty-handed trying to think of a ubiquitous positive event. I firmly believe that such events, incredibly wonderful instead of shockingly horrific, are entirely possible. Unfortun-ately, we are still waiting to see what such an event would look like.
The consistently negative nature of these events can be explained to some degree. “Good events,” for one, rarely culminate in one triumphant moment. Tragedy, on the other hand, catches us unaware. In the shock, the horrific facts come slowly and there are a thousand unknowns. With triumphant accomplishments, the event is often merely symbolic and known well in advance. The closest models I can call to mind are the fall of the Berlin Wall – which I and most of my classmates were too young to remember – and the moon landing, decades before we were born.
Our generation, already exposed to so much death and murder and war and evil, still waits for its anti-9/11. We have yet to gather around our televisions and computers to share joy instead of sorrow, fulfillment instead of shock, pleasure instead of anger. We are the waiting. But for the moment, in respect for the Virginia Tech community, let us remember that we are also among the mourning.
James Dechant is a junior studying abroad in Rome this semester. Questions, complaints and rude remarks can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.