end of the innocence

No matter how many amusing anecdotes I recount in this blog, no matter how many of life’s lighter moments I attempt to capture, no matter how hard I try to bring a smile to my readers (and to make myself laugh), it’s truly a struggle these days not to be overtaken by the times we live in. The inherent innocence required to be truly joyful – to cast aside worry even for a few minutes in order to celebrate the smallest things – seems to hide itself these days behind the shadow of seeing and knowing too much.

There are two enormous moments in my generation’s history that stand out to me as signaling that the sense of well-being so many of us believed in was, sadly, at an end – starting, in my memory as a five-year-old, with the assassination of JFK. Anyone old enough to walk and talk and sense that something was amiss on that day will never forget where they were or what they were doing when they heard Walter Cronkite on the news. Personally, I was outside in the backyard, playing with a friend, when my mother called me in, a strange quavering in her voice. There were workmen in the house finishing our basement and I remember my mother and grandmother in tears and those big, burly men sobbing.

I knew that something awful had happened and that something had changed. Why else would my father come home from work in the middle of the afternoon? Why else would the kitchen remain dark that night as we all gathered around the television? And why was little Caroline, just a few months older than I was, looking so sad? Years of history classes later, I, of course, learned more about the why of that day and how it affected the country and the world. I learned what it meant for Camelot to end. And I got my first taste of the end of the innocence that had surrounded our lives.

That beautiful sunny autumn day in 2001 brought any innocence we might have had left at the time to its knees. September 11 left us all shivering in the cold hard reality that we were no longer secure at home, that the country many of us had taken for granted for years as being a bastion of untouchable safety from any of the evils the rest of the world might improbably aim at us was, frankly, no more. Our country had unknowingly shown a vulnerability that had been breached – it was unthinkable, unbelievable, unimaginable. There we were – a nation aging a hundred years in a day. Far less innocent and far more wise in ways we wished we never had to be. Another date where we all remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard uncomprehendingly the news of the first plane. Saw impossibly the first tower fall. Wept ceaselessly at the terribleness of the day and the horror of the evil. Acknowledged regretfully that allowing ourselves to feel innocent was no longer safe or smart or sensible.

And now, the little children and their teachers at school. Families enjoying a parade during the most American of holidays. Scenes that could not be more innocent had Norman Rockwell painted them. Lost. Finished. Ended in a way none of us could ever have imagined and that all of us collectively feel as a wound in our own hearts. This pain is more than the sorrow for those who have perished and their families and friends who now mourn. It is more than the agony of feeling helpless. And it is more than the leaden recognition that these events seem to keep happening.

It is the fear of believing that we may never feel any of that innocence again.

But it doesn’t mean that we will never feel joy again. In the distinctly human mode of survival, we recognize that our lives do go on. In time we will laugh. And dance. And celebrate. In time.

Heart to imagine.

©2022 Claudia Grossman

3 comments on “end of the innocence

  1. Beautiful, poignant, and sad.

  2. You just expressed exactly how I’m feeling.

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