Saturday, November 22, 2008

November 22, 1963

I belong to an online social networking site called Eons. When I originally joined, it was billed as being for Baby Boomers, aged 50 and over. It’s motto was Lovin’ Life on the Flip Side of 50.

About a year ago, it dropped the age qualification to join from 50 to 13. Quite a difference. Many of us were upset. We had found a site where we could interact with people who understood our frame of reference and wanted to keep the age restrictions as they were. We became rather vocal about it. Some quit in sadness, and anger, and in feelings of betrayal.  I tried out a few other groups, but they just didn’t have the same feel. So I stayed with Eons.

The uproar continued and there were online skirmishes with those “young whippersnappers”. I remember being involved in one such skirmish. A young lady in her early 20’s couldn’t understand why she and her age group weren’t welcomed with open arms, what in the world could we have against her, and why were we so afraid of the younger generation? That’s when I entered the fray.

I replied that not knowing her, I had nothing against her in particular or anyone under 50 in general. And I certainly wasn’t afraid of her or anyone else. I believe I went on to tell her that frankly, she just wasn’t important enough for me to like or dislike or to be afraid of and that she was placing far too much importance on her existence in Eons. I explained that when we joined Eons we were promised a place where we could interact with people who remembered the same things we remembered. I asked questions such as, “Do you remember when Alan Shepherd was launched into space? Do you remember when Martin Luther King marched in Selma? Do you remember what you were doing when you first heard that Elvis had died? How about the Cuban Missile Crisis? Do you remember watching Bonanza in black and white? Or when Jeannie changed from black and white to color?” And finally, the basis of this post, “Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when JFK was assassinated?”

Of course, she couldn’t begin to remember any of that, as she wasn’t even a gleam in her Daddy’s eye. I went on to explain that we did, and that up until then, Eons was a place where we could go to discuss events such as those and so many other memories with people who remember from our own frame of reference. I wrote that we didn’t have to explain why we felt as we did about our memories, the others who read the posts would understand. If you didn’t live it, you just wouldn’t get it.

On days such as this, the anniversary of such an event, we could discuss our memories of where we were and how we heard the news that JFK had first been shot, and then, that he had died. We could talk about our memories to people who understood. It was a life altering experience. Few of us had lived through an event that so impacted our lives. We watched on TV and newreels as the entourage made it’s way past the Texas Schoolbook Depository and the grassy knoll. We heard the shots and saw the plume of pink exploding from the back of JFK’s head when the bullet found it’s mark. We saw Jackie crawling over the trunk of the car and the Secret Service agent making her get back to the relative safety of her seat. We watched as the convertible rocketed toward Parkland General Hospital in a futile attempt to get the President the care he was probably past needing and would come too late in any case. We listened as an emotional Walter Cronkite announced that the President was dead.

We watched a few hours later as VP Lyndon Johnson took the oath of office as President while Jackie, visibly in shock, stood next to him, still wearing the pink Chanel suit she was wearing when she was sitting next to her husband, happily waving to the crowds in Dallas, just moments, seconds before her life changed forever. It was now stained with her husband’s blood and brain matter.

We watched two days later when Jack Ruby gunned down apparent assassin Lee Harvey Oswald in a Dallas police garage. We watched the funeral procession. We saw John-John salute his father’s coffin (of course, we later learned it was the soldier on the other side of the casket that John-John was saluting, as he had been taught). We saw the riderless horse and watched the lighting of the eternal flame.

Many of us were still too young to really understand the implications of what had happened. We just knew that President Kennedy was dead, and that our parents were shaken to their very core. We didn’t know what to think, and there was nothing we could really do, so we looked to the adults for guidance, explanation, and comfort. We knew that the adults around us were upset; some crying, some angry, and all confused as to how this had happened.

We listened as our parents and other adults discussed facts, theories, and conspiracies. Nearly everyone had a theory. We listened as the adults wondered how this tragic event would change our lives. No one had any idea that even today we’d still be discussing those theories and conspiracies.

Prior to his election in 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy enjoyed an adulation similar to that enjoyed by Barak Obama. Both were young and charismatic. Both offered change from what had been to what they envisioned for America. Both made memorable speeches in Berlin. Both made history in daring to ascend to the highest office in the United States: JFK was the first Catholic to be elected to the Presidency; Obama the first Black American.

Those of us who are “of a certain age” remember JFK’s death even more than his life. In death, he became larger than life. He was a man whose life was cut short before he could really put his stamp on the presidency and establish his legacy. Had he lived, he may have blended into relative obscurity after his term of office, or he could have become the most revered President in our history. We will never know what he could have become.

Everyone has events that shaped their lives. We may not understand the magnitude of the event at the time, or just what it meant to us. Being social creatures, we strive to find a similarity with others. One way is finding memories that we share. And when we find someone who has the same memories we have, it’s our nature to discuss them, and to share our memories.

Today, November 22, there will be many discussions of where we were, what we remember, and yes, the theories and conspiracies surrounding that almost surreal time in our lives.

May we never live through such a time again.

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