World Events That Changed Gen Xers: The Challenger Explosion

27 years ago the horror of seeing the Space Shuttle explode in mid-air, a shuttle with a teacher-civilian on it brought many of us to our knees.

As a proud Gen Xer I remember this day unfortunately all too well. I was in high school and my trigonometry teacher broke the news to us. Some Gallo’s humor comments in the hallway didn’t sit well with me and I remember saying to my baseball team colleagues that if anyone had any snide comments, they were going to have to deal with me. As the skinniest and quietest kid on the team, I was less than intimidating. But one of my teammates said, “That dude means it. Today’s the day it all comes out. I ain’t messin’ with him.”

CNN covered the events of the day all too well. Look at this from the inside:

Fast forward years later and I covered events like the first World Trade Center bombing, where our traffic reporters were in the building at WFAN, an all-sports station. A guy called in to our all-sports station and asked “Hey, are you gonna have remotes from Bosnia next week too? Where’s the sports?”

Somehow I stayed calm and said “You don’t get it. One this may be the biggest disaster in NYC history and two we have PEOPLE in that building.”

I managed the on-air content for WOR as Columbine unfolded, a seminal event for milennials, many in high school themselves at the time. The adrenaline was coursing through my veins as we dialed up a local news station from the Denver area on the satellite and took much of their feed of the live events. I remember screaming “Who the hell do we know in Colorado and I mean ANYONE? Fathers, sisters, your crazy great aunt…I need an eyewitness.” Live radio and television is made up as it goes along and it’s incredibly taxing and satisfying to produce. I ended up calling some sports contacts and got a few writers from the local papers to chat with our news director on air.

And then when it was all over I cried, every time I thought about it. These were kids. Years earlier they were astronauts.

I often say that unless you wanted to be an astronaut, you never really put yourself in the place of those 7 brave people who lost their lives. However, one can easily see themselves in Columbine, in 9-11 or the first trade center bombing, in natural disasters and in Newtown just a few months ago.

Community structures today are not what they once were. Neighborhoods don’t have the same feel where you’d watch out for the kids on the block because you knew them well. If an air raid siren went off in the 50s the community had drills in place, stupid ones, I might add that might have added anxiety to the experience and did little to protect anyone. Hiding under your desk isn’t exactly going to stop a nuclear explosion. Early GenXers remember being scared to death of the Russians and even in the light of the 1980 Olympic Hockey win over the USSR, many wondered how soon we would be at war with a country that was so angry with us and oppressed their people in a Communist regime.

The world today is not as simple. For one, we often don’t know who the enemy is or where they may be coming from or even why they hate us as they do. Its a precarious world where we often don’t know the danger that we may be walking into.

Those 7 astronauts knew the danger that lurked in their mission. It was nonetheless tragic for them and their families and for us. We hoped all would be well but it was not. And it changed many of us and caused us to ask why?

God, too, suffers with us in these times and the difference between us and God is that God can redeem what has gone all too wrong, changing death and destruction into new life and peace once again.

Today let us pray that through the mercy of God all those who had their life meet an untimely end can rest in the peace that God provides.

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