Today was a very special day for me. For the first time in close to forty years, I got to spend time with a very special friend from my childhood and her absolutely amazing college bound son. We went to brunch, but we spent so much time talking (well, yes me mostly, but not entirely) that the truly delicious meal was almost forgotten. Something happened during the course of the meal that really made me suddenly see my life in a different light.
We came to talk about how the closest I had been was standing at the ferry port on the Isle of Anglesey and looking at the bright green island across the water. This prompted my comment that one of the reasons I hated the divisions and the religious emphasis on political issues here was that I didn't want to live in a Northern Ireland. Her son commented that all he knew about Northern Ireland is that the people there weren't very nice. To which I said "It used to be a lot worse." Then it hit me! HE had been born since the Northern Ireland Peace Declaration in 1993! That whole bloody conflict of decades that I grew up with was something he knew nothing about! The Kennedy Assassination -- such a big event for his mother and me, and it's history to him, not an emotional impact like it was for us. The Vietnam War. Watergate.
I must admit that a similar thing happened to me back in the 1980s. I was babysitting for my statistics professor, and her children were watching a TV movie about Kent State. The daughter turned to me and said "Why did college kids behave so badly back then?" Like a blow to the gut. Kent State was May of my senior year. When I read about it, I felt as if I had been shot. How to explain this feeling to that child?
How to explain any of the things that felt like opening doors, or like closing doors, to someone who hadn't been born yet, and couldn't possibly feel the event the same way? Someone who could maybe never even understand how the things that are going on today feel?
My friend astonished me by quoting something I said after the Kennedy Assassination, something I don't even remember saying. I don't doubt her, but that was the year my father had died in March, and I hadn't recovered from that. Having Kennedy assassinated in my state, dug up all that sorrow -- I felt so deeply for the Kennedy children -- and what I mostly remember is feeling devastated and frightened about the future. Not just because my father had died and that me feeling frightened and alone, but because I was part of the "Duck and Cover" drills generation, which taught us to fear nuclear war, and NOW OUR PRESIDENT WAS DEAD!
I came away from this breakfast elated, but already grieving because this dear friend, with whom I could talk for hours, doesn't live near me and who knows when I will see her again? I also came away determined that these things are something we MUST communicate to the kids her age. How the world was when we grew up and how it's changed. What we feel about those changes and why it's important for their generation to understand why we feel that