Mount Saint Helens

On the way to school on May 18, my son asked why the 30th anniversary of the mountain blowing up was such a major event to adults.  My students echoed that sentiment:  “It happened so long ago – what’s the big deal?”

Sometimes when I get questions like these, my first reaction is to feel criticized and defensive.  I have to make a quick judgment regarding whether it’s a serious query or just an attempt to bait me.  If the questioner is serious and I react badly with a comment like, “You are just too young to understand!” or “Why do you always have to be so negative?”  I may damage the communication channel.

In this case I took the time to explain that when I was growing up, volcanoes were only found in exotic places like Hawaii, Iceland, and Ancient Italy.  To have one erupt practically in our own backyard was as bizarre as it would be to have Mount Rainier erupt, or to have the Pacific Coast hit by a devastating tsunami.

I went on to explain how sharing major events becomes a way of bonding.  The question “Where were you when. . .?” is always  good for several minutes of sharing not only memories but also emotions.   For my parents, such events include Pearl Harbor and The Day Kennedy Was Shot.  For my generation, the list includes Landing On The Moon and The Challenger Disaster.  For today’s teens (as well as the rest of us):  9/11 and The Day Michael Jackson Died.

It was a great moment for teaching about how adults think and feel, and I almost missed it.

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