Indelible Days by Jamie Kirkpatrick


They mark our lives like milestones. They may recall grief or shock or fear or sometimes—if we’re lucky—even supreme love. Both types of these indelible days—the happy and the sad— have left their marks on my soul like footprints in the sand.

The first of my indelible days was November 22, 1963. I was a boarding school student and when I left my dorm room around noon, the world was a safe and happy place. By the time I arrived at the laundry across campus some twenty minutes later, President Kennedy was dead. I ran to the chapel but even in that quiet space, there was no safe harbor for my grief. Although I was too young to realize it at the time, that day stamped me forever with a profound sense of loss and abandonment. It was my own ‘Day of Infamy,’ the day everything changed forever.

Since then, a few other historic indelible days have marked the calendar of my life, both good and bad: July 20, 1969 (the first landing on the moon); October 6, 1981 (the assassination of Anwar Sadat); January 28, 1986 (the Challenger explosion); September 13, 1993 (the signing of the Oslo Accords); and, of course, seventeen years ago today, September 11, 2001, the day the twin towers crashed, the Pentagon burned, and a farmer’s field near Shanksville, PA became hallowed ground.

Those of us old enough to remember that day recall all too well the chapters of the story that unfolded on that bluebird morning: confusion, realization, shock, fear, and ultimately grief. But in our grief, we also witnessed the astonishing heroism and sacrifice of the men and women who responded to the disasters—the firefighters, the police, the EMTs, and all the other unsung heroes who ran into the smoke and flames to help people they did not know, or the passengers on an airliner who gave themselves up to prevent a fourth monstrous tragedy. Today, seventeen years later, all these images are still vivid in my mind and bookmarked in my heart; they will never fade away.

My father died in 1987; my mother died in 2000. Thankfully, they did not live to survive 9/11. For them and for others of their generation, December 7, 1941 was the infamous date etched into their souls. But that date, heinous as it was, marked the birth of what we have come call “the greatest generation,” a tableau of men and women who answered history’s challenging call, many giving their own “last, full measure of devotion.” Out of the evil of Pearl Harbor and the inhumanity of the Holocaust, something good ultimately grew—good triumphed over evil. I have yet to see anything remotely like that grow in the ashy soil of 9/11. Sometimes, I fear, I see the opposite.

One thing I know for certain: there will be more indelible days in the months and years ahead. I’m praying they will be of the other—happier—variety: graduations, weddings, the birth of children and grandchildren. I wish those kind of celebratory indelible days for you, too.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is



Letters to Editor

  1. Well said, Jamie. Life-changing events engraved in our memories.

  2. Rick Balaban says

    You got me with this one Jamie. Thank you. Acknowledging all of yours I’d add a few of our generation’s

    Bobby and Martin’s killings, Nixon’s resignation, Arthur Ashe winning the US Open, and maybe even the Red Sox winning the World Series. And that’s only the public ones. Probably best to keep the private private.

  3. Jamie Kirkpatrick says

    I like this. We each have our own. A few (9/11) are collective. That’s how it should be.


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