The vaccine is a big moment. If it is true that its methods will make future viruses easier to fight, this global response to Covid is a true moonshot, a massive effort that will change the world. Somehow though, I don’t remember the exact moment when I heard about it. Good news just doesn’t hit the same way that bad news does, though now that I think about it, have we ever had a massive, global, piece of good news? I can think of a few personal and local examples. I remember where I was when my wife called to say she was having our first baby, for each Nationals’ no-hitter, when they won the World Series, and when the Caps won the Stanley Cup. On a global but trivial level, I also distinctly remember where I was when I heard that Disney would be taking over Star Wars and making new films. That turned out to be mixed news, but at the time I considered it a positive development. I suppose in the post-Mandalorian world it still is.
Covid doesn’t have any one big moment. I remember hearing about the first American cases. Specifically, I recall sitting at a coffee shop across the street from George Mason University and learning that one of those cases was self-isolating on the campus. I also remember the governor of New Mexico’s first imposition of a lockdown. But otherwise, it’s been one long, continuous string of news and an overall grim tone to the year. I imagine it’s somewhat like living through a major war, not World War II, and nothing like the Revolution of the Civil War, but instead much like the American experience of the First World War. The United States declared war against Germany on April 6, 1917 and fought until the Armistice of November 11, 1918, 19 months later.
I date the pandemic, at least for Americans, to approximately March 15, which is when things began to get more serious for us than past epidemics restricted to Asia. As of January 1, 2021 Covid rages on. So, that’s already almost nine months. As I said, that is considerably less then the 19 months the US was involved in World War One. However, our troops didn’t really get into the fighting until the spring of 1918. So, in a way, we were only major combatants for about seven months. The pandemic has already been affecting us longer than that and I don’t see it ending for quite some time to come. On a dark note, we have already lost six times as many Americans to Covid as we lost in the First World War.
It may seem strange that I am not talking about the Spanish Flu, but I think it’s clear that experience must have been worse. Nearly twice as many people died in a much smaller population (103 million) and those who died were of all ages. The one thing I have continually been grateful for in this pandemic is that it isn’t targeting children. That would be a nightmare. In my opinion that pandemic would have been much more like the Second World War in its intensity if not its duration.
I’m not even sure a big, shared moment was possible in that time. There’s a technological requirement for instantaneous information that transforms everyone’s lives in a few seconds. My grandparents told me about Pearl Harbor. On one side of the family, they were together in a movie theater and my grandfather decided in that moment to both marry my grandmother and join the army. On the other, my grandfather vividly described hearing he news on the radio in a Phoenix ice cream parlor. With widespread radio communication the news must have been nearly instant.
On Mad Men, the depiction of the Kennedy assassination, of phones simultaneously ringing in every office brought to mind my own generation’s great moment, the morning of September 11th. I’m sure the show creators read firsthand accounts, but they also must have been remembering that day as a parallel. Strangely, and I’m sure this will beggar belief, I was sitting around the dinner table a few nights before 9/11 talking with my dad and my girlfriend and brought up the subject. I asked them whether our generation had experienced a moment where everyone remembered where they were. My only example was the explosion of the Challenger. While that was terrible, I was aware that it had neither the universal impact nor the deep emotional impact of the Kennedy assassination. When 9/11 happened, I asked my grandfather what was a bigger shock, that day or Pearl Harbor, and without thinking too long, he replied that it was definitely 9/11. He said that at least with Pearl Harbor they knew exactly who had done it, and exactly what they were going to do about it. That would have changed things I agreed.
So, thinking about the subject, I compiled a short list of the big, shocking events of my life and tried to rank them. Originally, I included personal events like the deaths of stepfather and mother, but no one wants to hear about that, right? So, the following list is just general events.
- September 11th(9/11/2001, takes the cake here as being both instantaneous and universal, watching the whole thing unfold and the whole world stopping to watch with me is a hard thing to forget. I remember the entire day in detail and have thought about it many times since.)
- Hurricane Katrina (8/29/2005, this unfolded over several days, but since I lived in New Orleans at the time, it is one of the biggest external events of my life)
- 14th street bridge crash (1/13/1982, I don’t know if many people outside the DC area will remember this, but as my dad was delayed in getting home from work and was crossing the bridge just after the crash, it left a big impression on me. I was four.)
- Challenger explosion (1/28/1986, this hit me particularly hard as we had been reading about Christa McAuliffe for weeks before the launch, reading through the Wikipedia article right now hit me hard again. So much so that I considered moving it up the list further.)
- Operation Desert Storm (1/17/1991, there was a slow build-up here and a deadline that made the actual attack less surprising, but it was still a big dramatic event, and the first big war of my lifetime.)
- Election of George W. Bush (11/7/2000, in hindsight this wouldn’t be the most upsetting election result of my lifetime, but at the time I was young and naïve and became disillusioned that people would vote for a clearly inferior candidate for partisan reasons. I’m not sure my opinion of humanity ever recovered.)
- Election of Donald Trump (11/8/2016, well, this will hopefully be the lowest my countrymen will ever sink. It’s still hard to even say his name.)
- The Death of Princess Diana (8/31/1997, shocking enough that I remember I was sitting at the bar at the Outback Steakhouse when it happened. After reading the Wikipedia entry just now I’m even further shocked at how preventable the whole thing seems.)
- Kurt Cobain (4/8/1994, though he died a few days before, this was when I heard about it. The strange thing is that there was a sense that something like this was coming in the Grunge scene. A few weeks before, Eddie Vedder had gone missing and we all thought he was dead. Anyway, it felt like a real loss because I was expecting more form Nirvana.)
- Chadwick Boseman (8/28/20, this one came out of nowhere. We loved him in 42 and Black Panther. It just seemed so unfair for kids to lose this guy. I couldn’t believe it.)
My hot take on all these events is that it definitely seems like events that come early in life hit harder, and negative seems to greatly overshadow positive. Let me know if there is anything I forgot. This was a far from systematic brain-storming of events.