It dawned on me the other day that three major political defining moments have had a major impact on my life and how I look at the world. The experiences we have and how we respond to them shape the future of our lives and our careers. As I go down memory lane with you on my political defining moments, be thinking of yours. What were they? How did they affect you? Was your worldview changed in any way as a result of your experience? As we look at how the world is changing so rapidly now, what future changes can we foresee?
November 22, 1963
I was in first grade in 1963. It was the post-WWII era, and America was undergoing radical shifts on many fronts. Women were gaining their independence and moving into the workforce in greater numbers, civil rights were being established for many, and the Vietnam War would soon be raging with protests dividing America.
In our school in Dallas, we stood and did the pledge of allegiance each morning. We were the Allies—i.e., America was the “good guy.” We had saved the world from Hitler’s tyranny, we had helped rebuild Europe through the Marshall Plan, and we were leading the Cold War with Russia. Bomb shelters were a thing. We sensed all of this going on at the time but did not really understand. Only later can we flesh out the memories and realize the connections between feelings and facts. But it was a happy time, and the world was exciting. It was a good time to be an American.
Until that afternoon on November 22, 1963, when President John F. Kennedy was shot in Dallas. We heard the announcement over the loudspeaker. School abruptly ended, and we were told to go home. Back then, little kids like me walked home by themselves. I was walking down the alley, and some second graders were walking together on the street. There were no fences between the tract houses, so we could see each other in between. I remember the girls calling to me, “You don’t love the president! You aren’t crying!”
It was my first true “mean girls” experience, and it was very confusing. I had no idea what had happened. I didn’t understand why we were out of school. I realized the magnitude of it all when I walked into my house. Our black-and-white television was turned to the news, and the adults were crowded around the set. Everyone was crying. It was a very sad time for all of America, but being in Dallas made it worse. It happened in our town. America was suddenly changed at that moment. It would never be the same. I was politically awakened at age six, and, who knows, maybe the taunting I got about not crying gave me the impetus to always stay on top of what’s going on and have a full understanding of current events.
September 11, 2001
Fast-forward to my second big political defining moment. It was on 9/11. It was a very strange thing that happened to me that day. I rode bikes every morning at 6:00 a.m. with two friends. One was a photographer, and he had been downtown the day before, shooting photos of the painted cow sculptures throughout the city that were part of the CowParade exhibit. He was telling us the story about how Salman Rushdie was in town for a book signing. He described the crowds hurling hate-filled words at the author, and then, when it was time for prayer, they all went down on their knees in the street. The juxtaposition of hate and love was noticeable to my friend, and he shared the story with us. My other friend was a former Navy Seal.
When I got back from my ride, I completely deviated from my normal day. I had court at 10:30 that morning and needed to go straight to the shower. But for some unknown reason, I went straight back to bed. I didn’t even think to call court. I was not sick. I didn’t feel bad. Something just made me go back to bed and put the covers over my head.
My phone started ringing, but I didn’t answer it. That was back in the day when we all still had answering machines. After my phone rang several times, I looked at the caller ID. It was my mother in California. She was two hours earlier and didn’t have to wake up early, so I figured it might be an emergency. I called her, and she told me what was going on. I turned on the TV, and it was right when the second tower went down. It was unbelievable. And scary.
Needless to say, court was canceled, and the world pretty much stopped. From that day forward, the world was forever different, and a new awareness—and fear—of how dangerous the world is was forced upon us all.
I got back together with my Navy Seal friend. When you are scared, there is nothing better than being with a Navy Seal. Being in Houston, we were all wondering whether we were going to be hit. We have the oil refineries and NASA, so it was not far-fetched that we would be next. We lived with an increased awareness of how fragile our safe little world really was and the knowledge that, at any time, things will change. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was founded and instituted all those flight protocols, and now, after 22 years, they are a routine part of our lives. There will come a day when no one remembers what it was like to run up to the plane with your bag right before it took off. (I still miss those days!)
January 6, 2021
My third political defining moment occurred on January 6, 2021. I was in my office, and I don’t usually turn on my little television there, but sometimes, during lunch, I listen to the news just to have a quick break from the law. I was walking back into my office, and I saw the Capitol and hordes of people all over the steps and around the building. They looked like black bugs swarming. But it wasn’t bugs. It was humans. It looked like a sci-fi movie set for a film about an invasion of body snatchers, and I could not connect the dots that this was actually happening. When I saw the gallows set up and the chanting of “hang Mike Pence,” I was aghast.
It was another defining moment in time when I knew that things would never be the same. This was big and involved many people. Where was our law enforcement? Why wasn’t the National Guard called out? I’ve lived a long time now, and if you had told me that something like that would ever happen in America, I would have laughed you out of the room. It was unfathomable to me. It was so violent and brutal and shocking to see Americans attacking Americans and defiling our sacred place, the Capitol.
Since that day, the news has been like a fast-moving reality TV show, and the fundamentals of this democratic experiment are being tested on a daily basis. Each thing that happens only adds to our insecurities. As a political science major who loves politics, I am immersed in the news and follow it closely. I have the real sense that we are living in a pivotal time in history. I feel an obligation to stay involved and do what I can to play my part as an active citizen in this great country.
We have survived many tragedies as a country and have weathered many traumatic events, and we are still the great USA. As lawyers, we are perhaps more aware because of what we do. I know I will be looking for my next political defining moment, and I hope it’s one of peace and calm rather than the tragedies that have been emblazoned in my memories.
Ponder your defining moments and think about how they have shaped your life. There may be some gold in there that can help you deal with things in the future as you contemplate everything you have been through up to this point. Please contact me with your questions or comments at [email protected].
Defining Moments: Insights Into the Lawyer’s Soul
By Melanie Bragg
Product Code: 1620777
2019, 241 pages, paperback and e-book
$29.95; member price $23.95
Published in GPSolo eReport, Volume 13, Number 2, September 2023. © 2023 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association or the Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.