Millennial Life: The Echoes of History in Our Lives
When we lived in Germany, my grandparents would drive seven hours to see their only grandchild. One of the outings my parents decided to take my grandparents on was Sunday, Aug. 28, 1988. I was four, and I was a real pain that day.
My dad was, per usual, on edge about the number of people. It was when car bombs were a favorite terrorist device, and the base was open to the public for the Flugtag '88 airshow. This was also around the time when he would tell my mom and me to speak German in public to avoid people knowing we were American, even if he couldn't hide that fact. He was a classic American, tall and handsome, with the 1980s version of the American dad fashion de jour: windbreakers, Reeboks and military-issued glasses.
Ever since I was little and living adjacent to the military world as a dependent, I knew Americans weren't as liked as they thought back home. It was the fabric of public service announcements on the American Forces Network. During heightened sociopolitical tensions abroad, our school bus would be searched before we were allowed on base, with military police navigating their weapons around backpacks leaning out into the aisle from our seats.
It wasn't out of character or a misplaced sense of danger that my dad worried about our car. But I was out of character that day, overly tired and maybe overstimulated as we walked through the airshow grounds. I had made such a racket that my exasperated and on-edge father suggested we leave. Minutes after we left, the gates closed as the second-worst airshow disaster -- at that time, the worst -- had happened behind us. There were 70 fatalities -- 3 pilots and 67 spectators -- as a jet barreled into the stands.
The news was not as immediate as it is now, pushing into our phone appendages unbidden; we only heard about it when we got back to the house. My grandfather from Detroit called to ask his son what was happening. We turned on the TV. The new truck that my Opa ogled as we walked through the vendors? We saw it on the news, destroyed.
When my dad called work to find out if he should go back and help, he was told not to come, that it was chaos, the base was closed, and that he should feel grateful for leaving when he did.
My dad was a mechanic, proud of his work and eager to impress his in-laws and give his kid a good time. Had we stayed longer, he would have pushed to find the best seats. He probably would have known some ground crew and got us in a good location to watch. My parents and grandparents watched the news in shock. It could have been us in those stands. Why wasn't it us?
That question is more familiar now. With every new tragic incident in our country, people ask the same questions: Why wasn't it me? What if it had been my family?
There are changes in the hearts and psyche of a country and its citizens when they repeatedly ask themselves: Is it worth going to the parade, to the concert, to the grocery store, to church, to school? The chance that it'll happen to us is low. That's certainly what Highland Park residents thought before they grabbed their children and ran or shielded their child and died above him as Kevin McCarthy did for his son this past July 4.
The dismissal touted by those who are immovable to meaningful change is simple: We should not live in fear. And maybe they're right; we do. But it seems likely that those telling us not to be afraid are fearful too. Some of those same people, acting in a fear veiled in bravado, are the ones shooting others.
Their fears may vary, but it isn't immigrants coming across the border that are shooting into the throng of people with high-powered weapons of war. It is young white men ensnared by ideologies that treat life as disposable. A question that we should be asking as well, especially if those shooters look like us, is: What if that shooter came from my family? What if he was my son?
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate Inc.