Thursday, April 18, 2013

And That's the Way It Is, April 19, 2013

Read the published version of Charlotte Canelli's column in the April 19, 2013 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

It was less than four months ago when the tragedy in Newtown left me wordless.  That weekend before Christmas 2012, I idly sat in front of my computers, both in my office and at home. Shocked and saddened,  I contemplated the tragic event at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Very slowly that day, the column I was writing materialized.  I wrote about Fred Rogers and Rabbi Harold Kushner and listed their books and others that might help readers find their way to understanding this terrible event.  I added that 2013 would be the 20th anniversary of the Random Acts of Kindness movement, and I urged readers to continue spreading compassion across the world on a daily basis.

Today, one day after the horrific events in Boston on Patriot’s Day, I abandoned writing my column about scrappy science writer Mary Roach. It seemed disrespectful to make fun with words and chat about Mary Roach’s sometimes irreverent take on science. I just didn’t have it in me to find humor anywhere. It wasn’t writer’s block as much as it was confusion and despair as Boston, and the world, cried collective tears.

Today, idly staring at my computer screen and trying to fiddle with my keyboard, I remembered a similar time I was shocked with grief and disbelief – November 22, 1963.  I was 11 years old, home sick for the day when our black and white television screen went blank some minutes before noon (PST). Neighbors gathered on the lawns and my mother repeatedly answered the phone. We shivered in grief and refused to accept the words interrupting our lives. It was, perhaps, the very first day I realized that life sometimes got things very wrong.

“We Interrupt This Broadcast” by Joe Garner is a series of editions of books published since the late 1990s.  Our library owns one version, and there are three others in the Minuteman Library System. The long version of the titles varies: “We Interrupt This Broadcast: Relive the Events That Stopped Our Lives – From Hindenburg to the Death of Princess Diana” to “ - From Hindenburg to the Virginia Tech Shooting.”  The books include two or three audio compact discs that include the original recordings and recount the details of the events.  Many photographs in the books tell the stories.

Included in these books are the audio broadcasts of Walter Cronkite whose newscasts were a nighttime tradition for many for many of us for nearly two decades - 1962 and 1981. It was Walter Cronkite's voice we heard crack in grief when he announced to us that President John F. Kennedy had died.

Austin Ken Kutscher is the author of “Watching Walter Cronkite: Reflections on Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s” (2009).  The Newton Public Library in the Minuteman Library Network is the only library that owns a copy of this book, but I found the story quite intriguing. Kutscher realized that his daughter did not share the collective memory of his generation.  The nation’s anxiety in the 60s – the Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the deaths of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, and the racial injustices of the eras that Baby Boomers knew all too well – had not been experienced by subsequent generations. Kutscher recounts many of those memories, including Woodstock and the Apollo XI Moon Landing as they were portrayed on the nightly news. He describes how the lives of a generation were shaped by these life-altering events.

A comprehensive biography of Walter Cronkite was published last year.  It includes many plates of photographs and illustrations in its 819 pages. In this book, “Cronkite” (2012), Douglas Brinkley describes the journalist’s and broadcaster’s achievements and explains why we felt he was “the most trusted man in America.”   Walter Cronkite was not only witness to so many events from his birth in 1916 to his days covering the Allied troops and the first televised Olympic Games, but he sometimes he witnessed them for us.

Walter Cronkite retired from CBS news over thirty years ago. His nightly newscasts ended just a few weeks after the hostages were released from Iran and a few months before Diane married Prince Charles. His successors reported on events throughout the last decades of the Twentieth Century including the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters and the fall of communism in the Soviet Union.

Walter Cronkite died at the age of 92 in 2009.  “Conversations with Cronkite” was published in 2010 by the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History includes selections of interviews held between Dr. Don Carleton, a master historian and his friend, Walter Cronkite.  Carleton interviewed the acclaimed journalist many times and these meetings comprise the book giving readers a rare glimpse into the life of Walter Cronkite in his own words.

Social media, around-the-clock news channels, and constant smartphone updates have ended our need to wait for the evening news. Yet, those outlets haven’t ended our need for consoling words of wisdom.  Staring at my computer screen and my office walls today, I wondered what words Walter Cronkite would have used to describe the sad events for Boston on Monday, April 15.

So many events, both earthshattering and awe inspiring, have happened since Cronkite’s final broadcast; most remarkably 9-11. Cronkite’s 1981 retirement didn’t end his commentary, however.  He contributed to the narration of the remarkable series of 8 DVDs, “America at War” and contributed essays to National Public Radio.  “Cronkite Remembers” is a collection of 3 DVDs published in 2002.  Many of Walter Cronkite’s DVDs of history and pivotal events in our American experience are available through the Minuteman Library Network.   Visit the library’s website and the link to the Minuteman Library Network to put one of them on hold.  You may also call 781-769-0200 and speak to a librarian who will place the request for you.