I grew up hearing my parents tell their where-they-were-when-Kennedy-was-shot story. Admittedly, it was quite the story. It caught my parents completely unawares as it did the nation, and shocked America from an innocence it would never recover.
On November 22, 1963 we moved from Manhattan to our first house in Westchester, N.Y. I was almost two years old and my brother four months, both of us in diapers. The moving van had just been parked in the driveway when a neighbor ran over to tell my mother that Kennedy had been shot. My mother went into action: she asked the movers first to find the television and second, set it up. That was the only instruction she would issue. After, it was up to the poor guys to decide where to put everything else, as she sat glued in front of images of a blood stained Jackie, followed by the funeral of the century. Of course, with years of retelling, my father embellished the story – so by the time we were teens it was part of family lore, if not fact, that the movers changed diapers and prepared bottles and we put ourselves to bed - clearly our Kennedy moment was a fend for yourself situation.
Ironically, 9/11 happened on a day when our only television in Monaco was broken. Never one to watch TV, I wasn’t too worried about getting it fixed. When my husband called and told me a plane had hit the World Trade Center, I assumed it was an accident. I asked if I could stop by his office to watch for a minute, as I was about to do school pickup. I remember clearly his ‘fine, but just for a moment I’m busy’ reply.
It took only a few minutes to get to his office (here nothing is far.) As I parked, a loudspeaker was broadcasting from a restaurant. I went in and saw the footage of a plane hit the tower, assuming it was a replay. A woman turned to me; stricken, and said ‘that’s another plane.’ And at that moment the world fell apart.
For years before moving to Monaco, I had worked next to the Twin Towers. Their construction was a wonder of my childhood. My friends died in them that day. Their falling was my generation’s loss of innocence, as the Kennedy assassination had been for my parents.
So like my parents almost 40 years before, we remained glued to any television we could find, and in between calls home to check on friends, I left frantic messages for the TV repairman, that: ‘I was from New York! You have to come and fix our TV! ‘Planes hit the World Trade Center! You have to come and fix our TV!’ and ‘Terrorists attacked - YOU HAVE TO COME AND FIX OUR TV!’
Eventually it was fixed. Eventually we stopped watching around the clock and moved on to attend memorials and fund raisers. Osama Bin Laden’s name was seared into our collective consciousness. Non-Americans were incredibly supportive and caring. But as the years passed, for many of them the vividness of the day began to fade.
For Americans, it never has and never will. I’ve tried to explain that to my European friends. September 11th was our ‘Kennedy moment’ and I don’t think we will ever forget one second of that day, let alone get over it.
I am glad Osama bin Laden was killed. I am happy for my friend, who lost her husband ten years ago and was left with four young children to raise on her own. I am happy her son could celebrate, in front of the White House, that his father’s murderer had finally received some small measure of justice. But it is nonetheless heartbreaking that we live in a world where we have cause to celebrate death. Some of the most painful moments just after 9/11 came upon watching footage of people dancing in the streets. Of course, not many people anywhere in the world feel badly Bin Laden is dead, nor should they. But despite the triumph of his death, the sadness of 9/11 and our loss of innocence remains.