Life’s milestones make us who we are

Jim Lee: Columnist

Four years ago today, something awful happened. Just about everyone can probably recall that morning with detailed clarity. As with those who remember the attack on Pearl Harbor, the death of President Roosevelt, and the assassination of President Kennedy and Dr. King, we know exactly where we were and what we were doing when the airplanes struck.

I was in the break room at the Eastern New Mexico University Broadcast Center. I had just finished doing a newscast and had gone after a cup of coffee. The first aircraft apparently struck the World Trade Center as I walked from the FM studios to the break room.

Soon my friend and colleague Don Criss rushed into the room telling me that a passenger airliner had slammed into one of those twin towers in New York City. We went over to TV Master Control where all those monitors are and stared at a live downlink as the second plane hit its mark. A little later Don and I watched the monitor as the first building collapsed. And, of course, we heard about the Pentagon and those brave people going down in Pennsylvania.

My co-workers weren’t their usual jovial selves. Neither were my students. Yes, we’ll always remember Sept. 11, 2001.

I’ll always remember those numbing days in 1963 and 1968, too. Pearl Harbor happened shortly before my birth, and I was too young to remember President Roosevelt’s death, but the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. are engraved in my mind.

When the president was shot, I was an 18-year-old auto worker in Michigan just a few months out of high school and about to enter military service. The factory kept the news from the workers. I suppose management assumed it would decrease productivity and profit. As I drove home from work, I noticed most of the businesses had closed and practically nobody was out and about. Everything seemed so strangely quiet. Then I heard what happened on the car radio hours after the event.

I heard about Martin Luther King’s violent death on my car radio, too — different car — this time in downtown Los Angeles.

It seems we measure our lives by catastrophic milestones. I don’t know why we do that. We should remember the disasters, if only to honor those who gave their lives or lost loved ones, but what of the events that have made our lives better?

Is it because the catastrophes were national events and the positive milestones personal? Are big things negative and little things positive? Is loss more memorable than gain?
I don’t know about that, but I do know that the birth of my son will always be a special, defining moment in my life. Robert was born Nov. 15, 1969, at 1:42 a.m. He weighed 9 pounds and was 20 1/2 inches long.

I also cherish the memory of the day I married Saundra. I can still feel her hand as she said, “I do.” I remember how the IVs prevented her holding my hand at the V.A. hospital in Dallas. When I see her smile, my life makes sense.

My point in all this is that we need to observe all the milestones, both the sad and the glad. Maybe taking a moment to think of the sacrifices of Sept. 11, 2001, while grasping the wonderful moments of our lives will jointly honor the occasion. Our fallen heroes would certainly approve of our seeing the good in our lives because that’s why they gave theirs.

Be nice to somebody you don’t know today.

Jim Lee is news director for KENW-FM radio. He also is an English instructor. He can be contacted at 359-2204. His e-mail: