Yesterday was my Mother's 86th birthday. I know this because I called her last night just to see how she was, and she reminded me of the fact. But I've been thinking of everything she has gone through, and she's gone through a lot.
When she was a kid, seeing an airplane in the sky was a big thing, because there just weren't many flying around northeastern Ohio at the time. This usually signaled the fact that a "Barnstormer" was coming through, and if my Mom and her friends were lucky, he would land at a nearby farm field and offer rides for a nickel.
She has witnessed the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the horrors of World War 2, the "police actions" in Korea and Viet Nam, and two wars in the Persian Gulf and Iraq.
She saw the World Trade Center built, and then saw it destroyed by terrorists.
She watched as Neil Armstrong put his foot on the moon for the first time. At a time when space shuttle launches are so routine we hardly even notice, we tend to forget that for some people, space travel was a science fiction dream. My mother would not have believed growing up, that someday this would all be possible.
She saw the advent of the personal computer. I cannot forget the smile of wonderment on her face as I showed her how she could find and communicate with anyone in the world instantly, or find a website with information she always wanted to have. It was like watching a child discover something on his own.
Just like space flight, computers were something undreamed of when Mom grew up. That was Dick Tracy stuff.
She has lived under 16 Presidents. She grieved with the nation at the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King.
She has witnessed the struggles for equal rights, first by African-Americans, now by gays. Though she could not make the trip, as she had a house full of kids, she figuratively stood by the protesters in the Birmingham bus boycott, spurred by Rosa Parks, the civil rights marches in the south, and the 1963 march on Washington, where Martin Luther King gave his "I have a Dream" speech. Ironically, though she was born and raised in Canton, Ohio, she spent most summers of her childhood in the Deep South. She was familiar first hand with the evil of racism.
All this she has seen. The technological advancements in her lifetime have been astounding, and, in 1923, unimaginable.
In fact, the technological achievements of the past 200 years have been greater, come faster, and changed our lives more than the technological advancements of the genus Homo Sapiens in all the millenia prior to the 18th century.
Now, those technological achievements are seeming to put our very existence in peril; whether through nuclear attack by a rogue nation or a terrorist group bent on our destruction, or through global warming and the greenhouse effect. But as a species, we are equipped with the intelligence to stop those threats, if only we would take them seriously.
I'm not here to preach about global warming OR terrorism/rogue states. We get enough of that from politicians. I'm just pointing out the distance we, as a people, have traveled. And I am awestruck that my mother lived through the fastest of the fastest technological advances in history.
Happy Birthday Mom (a day late).