There are one or two in every lifetime; sometimes more. Things you see, pictures or video or things you witness, sometimes even things you just hear news of, that will stay with you forever, that you're never going to get over. A few may be good, but most are probably bad things. Awful things. For my parents' generation, some of these things are the Kennedy assassination, the King assassination, that picture of the naked girl running, screaming, down the street covered in flaming napalm.
Then there are the things I've seen in my young life, things I'm never going to forget. One of them, the fall of the Berlin wall, is good. I saw it on the news as a child and will never forget it. But most, again, not things I'd wish my children to see. Things like the massacre at Tiananmen Square. The Challenger exploding (I was only 3, but my mom was home on maternity leave so I didn't have to go to preschool, and she sat down to watch with me. I will never forget it.) I didn't have a tv when the latest shuttle accident occurred, but my husband was living in Dallas at the time and saw the flash in the sky. He won't forget it. The planes crashing into the Twin Towers, of course; even without a tv back then, there's no way I could avoid seeing the images and remembering. And then there's the one that got me thinking about this. Footage from Hurricane Katrina of a family on a roof passing their baby to rescue workers. There was no room in the boat for another adult. They were just bringing some clean water and some hope. But they took the baby, and the parents had to say goodbye, not knowing if they would ever see her again. The story was repeated over and over. Stories of children whose parents sent them with rescue workers to get them out, any way they could. Stories of parents who didn't have a car but sent their children with relatives or neighbors who were leaving. Who knows how many survived and how many didn't after doing that. But it's a image that just makes me weep typing and thinking about it.
It's an image that touches that "archetypal story" spot in all of us. In the history of mankind, how many parents have said, "Here, I know there's only room for one, save my baby?" But what really got me about that particular shot (the last time I saw it used was on an Emeril special, it's such powerful imagery that I don't think they're ever going to stop using that footage) was that this is America. Every part of me rages that this should never have happened, shouldn't have to happen here. I mean, it shouldn't happen anywhere, but we're the richest country in the world. That's what made me the most upset at the time. We had just moved from Dallas and I wished that I were still there, so I could be more a part of the relief effort. I felt so helpless, so angry for all those children who through unfortunate circumstance, ignorance of the real situation on the part of another, or bureaucratic inefficiency suffered, and for their parents who watched them, and would take any chance to save them, in America. And so every time I read a story where a parent gives a child away to save her, or watch that episode of The X-Files, or anything like that, for the rest of my life, probably, the tears are going to come to my eyes. I'm never going to get over it. The face of the characters in those books will always be the anguished face of that mother and father as they kissed their baby and leaned out to pass her into the boat. And I will go hold my babies tightly and kiss them, and thank God that we are safe and together.