After 9/11 I started recording historical events of my lifetime as I experienced them. I’d grown up in New York and had recently visited the Twin Towers with husband and children. We’d sat at a table at Windows on the World, overlooking the Statue of Liberty. I’d told my daughters that our soda pops cost more than our ancestors possessed when they landed at Ellis Island.
Then I kept going, researching and writing about my birth date, known for the collapse of Galloping Gertie, the third largest suspension bridge in the world. Next I described the stand- out event: the assassination of President Kennedy. One of my students told me the news and my first response was denial. Along with the country, and perhaps the world, I rushed to my TV set to get the real story. As I watched, I lived the events: Walter Cronkite wiping a tear as he reported the time of Kennedy’s death. The apprehension, jailing and murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby. These killings not only changed history; they changed my world view. Suddenly I knew that evil is real, random, unfair and powerful. My spiritual life became an effort to grasp evil without denying it, explaining it away or living in dread.
Of all my living history, the Civil Rights Movement had the most profound impact. I grew up in a New York neighborhood that was considered “integrated,” a melting pot of ethnic backgrounds and religions. But there were no people of color, and later I realized that that was intentional. It was unspoken but understood that homes weren’t sold to non-whites. Later, black kids from the new project were bused into my school. Finally one of my favorite TV entertainers-- Nat King Cole--was driven off the air by racism.
In college I signed a petition in support of a Civil Rights demonstration. When I told my parents, they went ballistic. They’d seen the Red Scare years. They’d guided me through the McCarthy hearings. Together we’d celebrated the courage of Attorney Joseph Welch and broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow. They’d helped bring McCarthyism to its well-deserved and long-overdue end, but not before it caused neighbors and friends to lose reputations, jobs, incomes and personal safety because they’d signed a petition. Hence my parents’ fear that my signature could come back to haunt me. When I read years later of the dossiers kept on Martin Luther King by the head of the FBI and by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, I knew my parents’ fears were not unfounded.
My handwritten record also includes inventions (The Pill, computer, cell phone), Supreme Court decisions, wars, having babies in the 1970’s, and the expansion of civil rights to women and gays. Someday it will let my grandchildren read a personal view of a time they will only know from a distance.