The first time we visited the World Wide Web. The call to bring down the Berlin Wall. The elation of the first moon landing.
The assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Pearl Harbor.
These are events that shape generations. In our thinking, our actions, our culture. Our government. Our future.
I awoke on Sept. 11, 2011, to a distressed phone call from my Mom. "It’s horrible." I was still spiraling out of sleep, and this just wasn’t making sense. Was someone in the family hurt, or worse? No, they were all accounted for.
"What’s going on?" I remember asking. Something big.
I leapt up and drove to work. At the time I was a newspaper reporter, covering a federal research laboratories beat.
One of the missions at the lab was in counterterrorism, and I had attended earlier talks at the lab in which security analysts highlighted Osama Bin Laden and other figures as possible threats to the U.S. Such talks had seemed like textbook discussions, more theoretical than plausible, until that day.
As soon as I reached the office, my editor told me to get to the lab, and I was escorted by the public relations staff to a room with a television, where we watched in horror as the burning buildings fell.
Nothing felt safe in that instant. I recalled how years earlier, during a cross-country adventure with a few friends, we had toured the public observation deck in a Trade Center tower and marveled at the epic, breathtaking view. Gone.
Those of us who were not directly touched by the loss of friends and loved ones were impacted, too.
Aspects of the security, research focus and culture of the federal labs would change, as did the culture and focus of so many other federal agencies. It changed all of us.
One of the editors at the newspaper chose to pursue a job in law enforcement, in no small part because of 9/11.
Before the dust had settled there were swells of patriotism. In the weeks following, it seemed that wherever you looked there were cars flying flags or displaying patriotic messages. People were fending off fear with such constant reminders that we were all affected. And we were all together.
I had seen a similar outpouring of fellowship first-hand after Northern California’s 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and following the severe wildfire in the Oakland and Berkeley hills two years later.
Sept. 11, 2001, was the most significant globally historic event in my lifetime since the symbolic crumbling of the Cold War, with people chipping away chunks and pushing down whole sections of the Berlin Wall. And how different those events were.
Earlier this week I was talking with my best friend, a schoolteacher, about how 9/11 changed the U.S. How it changed us. We pondered whether the youngest generation is somehow different, in mindset and behaviorally, having grown up in a post-9/11 environment.
And whether the changed security environment has significantly impacted our daily lives and outlook.
I’ve still got a tourist trinket from my New York City visit years ago — it’s a tiny copper-tinted metal model of the Trade Center towers that my kids will no doubt ask about. And I’ll have to explain what it is and what it means to me. And what that day means for all of us — even those of us too young to remember.