Events That Shape Us…

I was sitting in my office at the City of Dayton Municipal Building when I heard that something had struck the World Trade Center. A bunch of us went to the conference room where there was a television and turned on the news. Much speculation was going on regarding what had happened and the severity of the situation. I stood there with some members of my staff watching in horror and all of sudden said, “Is that a plane flying in toward the towers?” To our shock and disbelief we sat there and watched the second plane hit the other tower in real time. We instantaneously knew we were under attack.

I couldn’t fathom it. I mean not here, not in the United States, not in the most powerful country in the world. Things like this happen in other countries and on television but not here. For me, it was another loss of innocence. Soon we heard about the Pentagon and then fear began to set in. The feeling of impenetrable safety was gone. What would happen next? Where? Who would be hurt? Killed? Oh my God, is my family safe? What do I do now?

The last place I wanted to be was at work but we had a City to run and could not afford widespread panic. No one wanted to be there fearing everything that represented government was a target for terrorists. Rumors started to fly. People were frantically calling their loved ones. I will never forget how I felt. All I cared about was my family and friends. Nothing or no one else mattered. It gave me a sense of perspective that I have not forgotten to this day.

And there were other events that shaped my perspective as well – the assassination of John F. Kennedy for example. I was eleven years old when that happened. It was my initial loss of innocence. I remember the Kennedy campaign and the young handsome newly elected president talking about the torch being passed to a new generation of Americans. I was energized. What an exciting time to get involved. He made you feel like you could make a difference and challenged you to do so. Then November 22…I remember being riveted to the television watching the coverage of Kennedy’s casket lying in state in the capital rotunda with people standing in lines miles long just waiting to pay their last respects. I remember the funeral cortege with the riderless horse, Blackjack, the young black stallion full of life and energy being held at bay by a soldier while he tried to buck his way through the streets of the funeral procession representing the young president whose life was cut short far too soon. In my mind’s eye I can still see the beautiful widow Jackie with a black veil draped over her face in a futile attempt to hide her tears. And the lighting of the eternal flame at the gravesite and seeing the brass colored casket being lowered into the ground. Only three days earlier he was young and vibrant. And now gone… The world became a lot older that day. I became a lot older that day. He was buried on his son’s birthday. The Thanksgiving holiday was later that week. There was not a lot to be thankful for – my staunch beliefs in the fairness of life were shaken. My initial lesson in perspective.

Then there was the death of John Lennon, gunned down by a crazed fan outside of the Dakota apartment building where he lived with Yoko Ono and their son Sean. He had decided to take a break from the music industry and became “Mr. Mom” to his son while Yoko ran the business of his affairs. He baked bread, he read bedtime stories to Sean, he gave up riding the music industry merry-go-round for a quiet life with his family. He came back to music grounded and with perspective. He was once again enjoying writing and being in the studio. On the evening he died, he left the Dakota for the recording studio and on the way signed autographs for some of the fans waiting outside. He spent a productive evening in the studio and went home. Walking into his courtyard he was shot by one of the fans he had given an autograph to only hours earlier. For me, it was the day the music died. Another loss of innocence and a healthy dose of perspective.

The death of my mother… the final blow. I did not feel it when my dad died, but it came down like gangbusters when she did. The feeling of I’m next. I’m an orphan. There is no one left to give me unconditional love. I can’t believe it. I will never see or talk to her again. This happens to other people but not to our family. The innocence was now completely gone. But, you move on. My mom would have wanted it that way. A big lesson in what’s important. The reinforcement of perspective…

We all have events that shape our lives, some for the good and some not. And when an anniversary like that of the September 11 attacks occurs, all the other life changing events you’ve experienced seem to come crashing back to the forefront. Where you were… who you were with… what you were doing… what you were thinking. They make you remember. They make you feel. They make you rue the loss of innocence. But most of all, they reinforce perspective, what’s important in life. And for that, I will always be grateful.

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