Tuesday, August 21 , 2018, 8:02 am | Fog/Mist 66º


Tim Durnin: Past Tragedies Put Tucson Shootings in Context

A teachable moment arises after President Obama's national address

My wife and I were picking up our children from ballet. It was the night of President Barack Obama’s national address after the tragedy in Tucson, Ariz. They missed the speech. We talked as we drove to the store.

My wife and I told them about the significance of such events and shared our own experiences of the Challenger shuttle disaster and the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. President Ronald Reagan’s words in the wake of the Challenger explosion still resonate with both of us.

My children were reasonably knowledgeable about 9/11, but they knew nothing about the Challenger disaster. Lorie, my wife, was in the fourth grade in 1986. She was one of the countless schoolchildren glued to the classroom television set, watching the events unfold live. She and her classmates were anxiously waiting to be taught lessons from space.

My father was involved in the Apollo and Skylab programs in Houston. We moved to the Central Coast with the shuttle program.

In addition to the obvious loss and tragedy evidenced that day, it marked the end of West Coast shuttle operations. It was also the end to the dreams of many men and women, including my father. Both my wife and I felt a very present and personal loss that day.

We pull into the grocery store parking lot, and before getting out of the car my wife pulls up video of the explosion on her iPhone. I search for President Reagan’s speech on mine. There, in the dark and quiet of my wife’s Yukon, my children watch the tragedy unfold and then listen to President Reagan’s inspired response.

My children were impressed that I can still remember Reagan’s closing line, “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them — this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.”

This moment in the Yukon is astonishing at many levels. Even five years ago, the same conversation would have slipped into oblivion as we tried to express in words what we witnessed and experienced that day in 1986. My daughters’ ability to experience the events in much the same way we had was profound.

Our conversation lasted 30 minutes. Sitting in our car, the questions poured out. What happened? How did you feel? Did another teacher ever go into space? Later at home we watched President Obama’s remarks and discussed the meaning and implications of his response to this most recent tragedy.

I believe they left these interactions with a new respect for the presidency, for this president and with a richer sense of and appreciation for history. Twenty-five years later, they are as taken with President Reagan’s charisma and charm as the nation was then.

I stand in awe of the new opportunities and applications technology provides. I am touched by my daughters’ ability to respond to events that took place fifteen years before they were born. And I am comforted by the words of presidents, their leadership and the ultimately positive commentary they offer about who we are as a people.

— Tim Durnin is a father, husband and writer. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for ideas, comments, discussion and criticism.

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