Where were you?
This past week I was once again reminded of how powerful a major event in life can affect your memory. How you can be transported right back to the time and place when you first heard the news. Good news or bad news, you remember exactly where you were.
I wondered if there’s a name for that, and there is, the phenomenon of remembering where you were when you heard important news is known as "flashbulb memory.” The term was coined by psychologists Roger Brown and James Kulik in 1977. The idea is that these memories are so vivid and detailed that they're thought to be like a photograph taken by a camera using a flashbulb. Of course, you have to be old enough to remember what flashbulbs are! These memories are vivid recollections of the circumstances surrounding a person's learning about a particular event. These kinds of memories can be both positive and negative, like weddings and births, or tragic accidents and unexpected events.
Unexpected events hit home for me. My Dad suffered a massive heart attack at the age of 63, he didn’t survive. Even though there was a history of heart disease on his side of the family, I guess you never think that it’s going to happen to you! I remember to this day where I was, the exact time and place, and who passed on the news to me, and that was 40 years ago.
And on the flip side of that, I can tell you where I was for the births of all 3 children. For the oldest two that was almost 50 years ago, and granted some of the details are becoming a little fuzzy, and something involving the Fraser Arms Pub, but I’m sure that’s a product of the time that has passed. And unlike my Dad’s passing, these events weren’t unexpected!
To go even further back in time, you probably saw, read, and heard that this past Wednesday marked a historic anniversary. Not a happy anniversary, but the 60th anniversary of the assassination of U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Where were you when you heard the news? For me, I was in class at Prince of Wales High School in Vancouver when they made the announcement that JFK had been shot. The news was so impactful that we were all sent home for the rest of the day. I recall some of the teachers were crying, it was a most shocking moment in time. When I got home and turned on the television to find out more, every television network was covering the story. In those days there were only a few TV networks and it was wall-to-wall coverage well into the night and the next few days.
There again is an event that was unexpected, unthinkable really. It was beyond belief to think that the President of the United States could have been shot and killed. It’s been said that it was at that moment in 1963 when America lost its innocence, and it also began one of the most violent decades in U.S. history with assassinations, the Vietnam War, and the beginning of Watergate. It was a very turbulent time for a country that was flying high in what seemed to be the carefree 60’s.
Most of my other “flashbulb memories” happened when I was in a radio station or TV station. Just 5 years after JFK’s assassination I was at the studios of radio station CKLG, and was clearing off the newswire copy from the teletype machine when the bulletin bells started ringing. I ripped off the copy and took it to the disc jockey who was on the air at the time. Bobby Kennedy had been shot at a hotel in Los Angeles. Again, an unexpected and shocking event, but so memorable all these years later.
I was on the air at radio station CKNW 46 years ago when the news came that Elvis had died. In those days disc jockeys could pretty much program whatever songs they wanted to play (within reason) so it was a natural transition to start playing Elvis songs as a tribute to the King of Rock and Roll. My counterpart on the FM station mentioned at the time that “he hadn’t seen so many long faces since the last beer strike!” A tad irreverent, and a comment that didn’t sit well with Elvis fans, they melted the phone lines with outraged calls to the stations' Program Director.
And as I wrote about in an earlier edition of the Word, I was on the air, 43 years ago at CKVU-TV interviewing Tom Harrison, the music critic with the Province newspaper, when we received word that John Lennon had been shot.
And even though it’s been 22 years since the 911 attack on the World Trade Centre in New York City, I’m sure we all remember where we were when that happened. I was changing planes in the Amsterdam airport heading for Istanbul. It seems like it was yesterday. Again a moment in time that’s so vivid and alarming that it stays with you for decades. The feeling was captured by Country Music artist Alan Jackson in his song “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning)
Another shocking memory was when we received word that Princess Diana had been killed in a car crash. She was the world’s princess and had touched so many lives, it seemed inconceivable!
As time passes, memories naturally decay. Details fade, and people may forget certain aspects of an event, but where we were and how we felt at that moment in time remains forever.
Till next week...
1/ Wayne's Dad 2/ Michael Jackson 3/ Princess Diana 4/ Elvis 5/ John Lennon
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White Rock, BC • Canada V4B 3Z2