Window on History

There are many great moments interspersed throughout American history.  Just about all of us have been born since the advent of radio and television and are fortunate to have witnessed some of these events (almost) first hand.  Today’s electronic media coverage is so thorough and so pervasive, though, that some of the world’s most important moments risk becoming commonplace. But certain events are so singular – so unique -that they can only be described as momentous. These historical moments stand out above all the others and are said to come only once in a lifetime.

There will never be another VE or VJ day (at least I hope not) but there will be other days commemorating peace, just as there were before  World War II.  Though joyous, they marked the end to years of terrible suffering and the loss of millions of lives.  Those who listened to the peace treaty being signed on the USS Missouri could not help but remember just a few years earlier the  shock of Pearl Harbor.

Everyone remembers the horror of the Kennedy assassination yet he was not the first U.S. President to have been  murdered (though hopefully he will be the last). Like millions of others, I will never be able to forget the sight of those planes crashing into the twin skyscrapers.  Historical moments like these are all wreathed in sadness and sorrow.

There are a few once in a lifetime events, though, that foster feelings of national pride and well being.  I remember, as a boy,  staring transfixed at our scratchy old black and white television, watching Neil Armstrong stepping off of Apollo 11’s lunar module, leaving the first human footprint in the moon’s dust.  Although there were six manned lunar landings in all, it was the first one that is burned into my memory.

I should not have been surprised at how powerful today’s inauguration was.  Being privileged to witness the  swearing-in of America’s first African -American President turned out to be very moving.  There may be other black men and women elected to our nation’s highest office but their inaugurations will never have the same impact as this first one. This is truly a watershed event, especially when we consider the turbulent history our nation has had in regards to racism and intolerance.  It can be said that the institution of slavery had more of an impact on our nation’s history than any other. This institution, abolished almost 150 years ago, still taints our society and stains our reputation among other nations.  In this significant regard, Obama’s presidency transcends politics.  Great presidents have always been more than just leaders but also national icons.  Today, President Obama is an icon for national healing and reconciliation.

No matter what your political persuasion, you should be able to appreciate the magnificence of what has occurred today. Without meaning to detract from Obama the man (or Obama the politician) the most significant aspect of his presidency has nothing to do with his politics or even his personal character.  Just as the opinions and philosophies of Neil Armstrong are not relevant to the historicity of his achievement, neither should they detract or overshadow what Obama has accomplished today.

Parents and teachers: I sure hope you had your children sitting in front of the television set today. There will never be another moment quite like this one.


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