Business Casual: The Time Dividers
Time-dividing events leave a mark on our souls and psyches.
Most people over the age of 25 can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing when they learned of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Those of us with a few more years to count have the same clarity about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, just as our parents never forgot how and where they heard that Pearl Harbor had been bombed in 1941.
These are time-dividing events, tragedies that leave an indelible mark on our souls and psyches. As we experience them, we don’t always understand exactly how they will affect us, but we soon regard them as chronological markers. There is the time before and the time after.
The takeover of our nation’s Capitol and disruption of our government last month by a mob of domestic terrorists, whipped to a lawless frenzy by the sitting president, Donald Trump, is the latest such event, especially horrifying because it was terrorism from within, not caused by a foreign power or a lone-wolf psychopath; and it was incited by a man who could and should have stopped it. Most of us watched it in real time.
My initial reaction, shared by many others, was incredulity: How could this be happening? Surely not here, not us? I felt the same way when, as a college student coming out of a biology class at UGA one sunny autumn afternoon, I heard that President Kennedy had been shot; and several years later, as the mother of a college student in Washington, D.C., where the Pentagon was attacked, I watched TV coverage of the World Trade Center towers collapsing.
Such events cost human lives, but they also call into question ideals that we hold inviolable. They enrage and terrify us and raise questions without easy answers.
Sadly, the list of time-dividing, ideal-shattering events is a lengthy one. We each have our own version, reflecting our experience and perspective. When I look at mine, it seems naïve, in hindsight, to be as surprised as I was by many of the incidents. The horrific April 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. probably shouldn’t have been as shocking as it was. I knew there were people who were just plain evil and people who were threatened by the Civil Rights Movement. But an assassination? I thought that was the stuff of history books.
Just months later, with Bobby Kennedy’s killing, it became apparent that something fundamental had changed, some presumed standard of decency and humanity had been breached. I have yet to regain the sense of security I lost after the 1960s’ trio of assassinations.
There were other hard-to-absorb events associated with the Civil Rights Movement – the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that took the lives of four little girls dressed in their Sunday best and the violent assault on the late John Lewis and others at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma in 1965. The Vietnam War prompted the 1970 shootings of anti-war protesters at Kent State University. Again – horror, anger, disbelief and the question, How can this be happening?
The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 brought the realization that there were places in our own country where ordinary citizens couldn’t simply go to their jobs or drop their children off at daycare without fear of injury or death. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012 made it clear that gun violence did not spare babies, nor did the murder of children result in tougher gun laws.
And although I can’t attach a specific date to it, seeing images of children in cages over the last four years, and knowing my own government put them there, sparked a helpless outrage and an awareness that I could never go back to the convenient ignorance of not knowing.
Same for last summer’s Black Lives Matter movement, a series of events and occurrences that forced white people to acknowledge that things were not automatically getting better and that our privilege-fed attitudes and the blinders we wore played a part in perpetuating the injustices fueling the movement.
These are things you simply can’t un-know or un-see. They become part of you and your experience. They change your perceptions, your outlook – and, in some instances, your behavior.
The violent Capitol takeover and attempted coup is the latest in a tragic pattern of time- dividing events that we must somehow process and learn from. I hope we are up to the task.