I dislike generational boxes. Hard stop.
I was born in 1964 and entered the public school system in 1969. I had no concept of Vietnam and less of WWII. I don't remember a time before outside the home childcare and when I was ten, if asked, I would have said men and women were created equal in the workplace but most men were pigs outside those doors. The Enjoli commercials informed my sexuality and the Russians were going to bomb us if we took our eyes off them for more than thirty seconds.
I watched parts of the seven hour Apollo 17 broadcast at a babysitter's house. We had a television but it lived in the closet. It came out on Wednesday nights for World at War and Monday nights for football. It stayed out during the Nixon Impeachment Trials and my brother and I sat in hard back chairs while my father provided an ongoing narrative over our shoulders. World at War did not require a narrative but the Holocaust was covered in further detail after the fact. We were never to forget lest it happen again.
Funny thing about that. We had no religion, no mention of God, and Christian was something that involved presents if we were good. The words, Jew, Muslim, Gay, and Gypsy were not in our lexicon; therefore, the greatest sin against humanity was purely economic. I could spell dissident. It meant going to jail to help people.
I learned that the second greatest sin against humanity was the failure to educate yourself, think, and vote. It was not a social obligation, it was a moral imperative.
Emergency broadcast tests were a fact of life; the current program interrupted by a sound I'll never be able to unhear. When my phone issues an emergency alert, my heart thrashes, my lungs shut down, and I am motionless until it stops. There is nowhere to hide.
The Duck and Cover drills ended two years before I was born, but each fall we were reminded to Stop, Drop, and Roll when the shiny red fire trucks pulled up outside the school. We were sent home with shiny red hats and shiny silver stickers for our bedroom windows. When I see an upright burning person on television I suspect them of having missed that day at school. I yell: STOP DROP AND ROLL ASSHOLE!
In place of Duck and Cover we had the ubiquitous Mushroom Cloud. By the time the movies rolled around it was obvious to most of us that ducking and covering, dropping and rolling were pointless. A bomb could land in a Kansas Wheatfield and the skin would melt off our faces in Glastonbury Connecticut within three minutes. Maybe less. "The best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep..." Hand me that rolling paper.
Chernobyl blew its top on April 26, 1986. I was two months pregnant and too busy barfing up breakfast to do anything other than flinch although I don't recall hearing much and Russia was so far away and if they'd blown themselves up, so be it. Mushroom Cloud in Kansas Wheatfield = Melting Faces 1500 miles east didn't translate to Mushroom Cloud in Russia = Fuck All in Europe = Possibility of Global Economic Collapse = Possibility of Everything I Haven't Thought Of. Yet. I didn't connect those dots until HBO released Chernobyl in March 2019. I watched all five episodes back to back and cried myself to sleep.
In 1983 television subjected us to The Day After. I still think about the woman listening to her husband's voice on the answering machine, before the power was gone. I still think about the woman stitching her daughter's body into a sheet. Of all the emotions meant to be evoked, it is living with the loss of loved ones after the fact - because I will be the one unlucky enough to die last. Very effective film in many ways.
Chernobyl was different. Chernobyl was real, is still very real, and current. Chernobyl, the miniseries, is packed with easily understandable, gut strangling technical information. If you want to know what happened, read the transcripts. Even better, sit yourself down and watch it all the way though.
The horror is NOT what happened. The horror is how they got there and the aftermath. The horror is what did not happen.
On a beautiful almost fall day in 2001 the entire world blew up. Granted, just two planes flew into two very tall buildings forty miles to the west, and two other planes seemed to be doing something else several hundred miles south. Compared to COVID, the casualties were minor but they were immediate, inexplicable, and entirely out of our control. The damage that ignited the act was already done.
I sat in my office with my face in a paper bag and calculated the distance between Stamford Connecticut and where I live today. In my head I prepared to gather my family and flee. Someone showed up the next day with a gas mask. I spent an incapacitated hour on the bathroom floor. I don't think I was alone.
We are still mortally incensed over this attack. We are still in a state of disbelief that anyone in the world, anywhere, for any reason would or could possibly do this. Outer Mongolia is still quivering from that epic temper tantrum. We didn't learn jack shit and we're still not paying attention, but you can get us frothing with the right words and we'll get behind just about anything.
I like the words 'just about'. They make me feel better. Sort of.
This is my when which isn't like any other when. This is my when which informs my perception and actions. Everybody's when is different, but extrapolate far enough and the fact of the common ground will take your breath away.
Extrapolate. It might keep the skin on our faces.