Fifty-seven years ago today, in Dallas, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated.
It was a lifetime ago. Actually two lifetimes. The parents of adults today were not yet born. Fifty-seven years is a long time. It is so long ago that it is less and less a matter of memory, and more and more a matter of history.
For me its memory. Memory seared into my consciousness. And, most years I continue to share the memory here on this blog.
I was fifteen at the time, a sophomore in High School.
I was in school when it happened. And, I recall the announcement over the school loudspeakers. Vividly. Like yesterday vividly…
There were gasps. And moans. A girl sitting next to me on my left started crying softly. I was fifteen and a snot with intellectual pretensions. I was confident I was one of a handful of classmates who even knew what party Kennedy belonged to, or who was his vice-president.
Could even have been true.
I leaned to the desk on my right filled with the smarmy all-knowingness that only a fifteen year old can summon up. And I whispered to my classmate, “I wonder what Johnson will be like?”
I think I was mostly showing off what I knew. But, it was also a real question for the Republic and the world.
One could argue it took Johnson’s iron will and mastery of Washington’s inside game to drive through all those social reforms that Kennedy proposed. One could argue Kennedy might have repented of his commitments in Vietnam before we sank neck deep in the Old Muddy. Another marker for my generation, something that is now really just history. But for me, memories.
The shape of my world. The world that wove into so many lives, my generation. The age of Aquarius. Birth control. Wars followed by wars. The rise of women’s consciousness. The Civil Rights movement. Wild explorations of many sorts. Drugs. The eruption of world religions in the same place. Hippies. Boomers.
And. An inflection point.
Who knows what did not happen because of this turning moment?
It remains one of those “great what if’s” of history…
A lot of water under a lot of bridges since then. Today JFK seems more grist for conspiracy buffs than much of anything else. Maybe also sort of an icon of decency and hope. With shadows, of course.
And, it’s hard for someone not from that time to imagine. There was something about that breath of hope that he stood for, and on which he rode to the presidency.
His Nixonian younger brother also had that air about him.
Another what if of American history.
Another pile of memories.
All now slipping into the dream time.
Dreams pile upon dreams, like night clouds…