Once, when I was a teenager I went to see Pelé play an exhibition game with the Brazilian national team. I never made it into the stadium; in fact, I was happy to return home again in one piece. There were far more people on the outside of the stadium than places inside and the crush of the crowd was quite thrilling. The sea of people was so compacted and pressed together that one no longer had any control over the direction one could go. Then when the military police got impatient and pulled out their batons to whack away at us, things got desperate indeed. As a teenage boy I was oblivious to the danger; it just seemed like a lot of excitement.
So I never got to see Pelé play in person. One of the missed opportunities in life.
But I have seen a number of things with my own eyes that I’ll always remember. I’ve mentioned before seeing Pope John Paul II on his arrival in Morocco, the first visit of a Roman Catholic pope to a Muslim country. And I’ve seen three of my four daughters being born; also memorable. We still have the bed they were born in. As a boy in Florida I saw in the distance the Apollo 11 rocket blast off on its way to the moon. I’ve seen Nelson Mandela, not long after his release from prison. I’ve seen Queen Beatrix a couple of times; will likely see her again next week at the remembrance ceremonies. I saw a man shoot another at a public swimming pool. I saw the World Trade Center towers come down on live television. But then I’ve seen a lot of other things on live television, including the first lunar landing.
What’s the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen with my own eyes? With all due respect to my wife and three of my four daughters, I think the honor has to go elsewhere. Hands down, it’s got to be the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980. It was a clear day and from the little park near our home in Portland, Oregon we had an unobstructed view of the mountain as it went into total disintegration. A sight that gave true definition to the word “awesome”. My father, though, missed the point entirely when he broke our stupified silence by saying, “Boys, I think we’d better get going or we’ll be late for church.” So, the one event brought forth both one of the most memorable sights I’ve ever seen and one of the most memorable comments I’ve ever heard.
A day to remember.