Look for the helpers

Published 6:29 pm Friday, September 17, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Charles Qualls

“Do you remember where you were?” is a question that the big moments of history beg. Last week as Sept. 11 neared, this newspaper offered a compelling package of stories. One of them afforded several of us a chance to share our personal responses to that question. The stories were interesting.

I shared on social media my little segment as a photo to accompany a reminder that I was reflecting as the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack neared. What ensued was almost predictable. Unprompted, my friends and family alike began to share their own memories from that day.

For me, my memory of that morning still runs in my head like a crisp video. Every eleventh day of September, the same memory plays. The sensation is as though I am still driving my car through the parking deck of the DeKalb Medical Center in Atlanta. I can hear the voice of the radio host as he interrupted his regular talk format program to give the news that an airplane had hit the first tower.

His voice made evident his disbelief. How could such a thing happen? Details were sketchy in the first minutes.

I recall thinking, as did the on-air radio personalities, that maybe a personal plane or other small jet had crashed. I can even remember thinking, “OK, instruments are fine. But couldn’t they look out their windshield and see a building coming?” My default hope, maybe just like yours, was that the whole thing was some sort of terrible accident.

Soon, though, we knew differently. Another commercial airliner came along and hit the second tower. Now, America knew it was under attack. That day caused many of us to want to check on loved ones. A collective anxiety seems to have fallen upon us. We wanted to hold tight our beloved, and to speak our love aloud to those who were some distance from us.

Still today, we marvel at the inspiring bravery of the first-responders. Local Franklin fire and rescue personnel traveled to help out. Their stories were told here as well. Everyone who did so saw and did things that no human should have to. Other practical issues are still talked about. Financial institutions that relied on companies within the World Trade Center towers suddenly lost most or all of the people upon whom their businesses counted.

The floods that took place here in Franklin back in 1999 and 2006 follow a similar pattern. The photos I have seen are narrated by the stories so many of you tell. Some of them fascinate with details and logistics. Others, though, illustrate the goodness of humanity as volunteers came to help. Locals helping locals, too. Hope and inspiration from the aftermath became a part of the lore.

Extremely good news has the same memory effect on us. A challenging diagnosis or disappointing news can do likewise. Things that impact us deeply will travel forward with us.

Why do we remember where we were when big things happen? Why do we recall so vividly the moments and even the days that follow? I think we do so for a number of reasons.

The uniqueness of something truly historic gets our full attention. Neurologically, our brains tend to write memories of those things in a different way compared with how the daily and the routine get recorded. More deeply, our very personhood gets touched by the recoil and fright. Or by the surprise and celebration.

Think back to the most generous thing someone ever did for you. Where were you? Recall for a moment the most generous thing you ever got to do for someone else. What was that time like? When was the most beloved you ever felt? What may be your life’s most important moment or two? Where were you? What were those times like?

The stories stick with us because the events matter to us. The details stay inside our hearts and minds because an impression was made. Now let me ask us all the natural question: how can you or I help each other to write some vivid memories without a tragedy having to be at the center of them?

THE REV. DR. CHARLES QUALLS is the pastor of Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.