What were you doing when you heard of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination? I was a senior in high school making up an assignment in Office Machines class.
An announcement came over the PA system that Kennedy’s car had rushed to the hospital in Dallas after a shooting. It wasn’t long after that another announcement came on saying that President Kennedy was dead. At first there were gasps and then silence. People started crying and there was a mix of fear and sadness as the horrible fact sank in. Remembering the Cuban Missile Crisis of just one year before, we were wondering if this were some evil plot of the Communists who had come to seek revenge; or, was it the act of a mad man?
Our school’s administration called for an assembly in the auditorium where we gathered to listen to prayers and then we adjourned to the outside to silently view the lowering of the flag to half-mast and went home to an early dismissal. Words couldn’t explain how we felt that our young, vigorous president was now dead. At that time I felt the future was as dark and bleak as that cold, gray November day.
In the days that followed we stayed glued to the small, grainy, black and white TV screen as we watched history played out before our tired eyes. We suffered more shock when we watched in disbelief Lee Harvey Oswald gunned down just like in the movies. But this time we had to remind ourselves this was real, not something from a gangster film.
We learned about tradition in state and military funerals. The image of the riderless horse was a poignant scene. The black stately horse with empty boots in the stirrups was an all-too-real reminder that our president was struck down in his prime. He was interrupted in the midst of a fruitful life leaving behind a young family without a father and husband and an important agenda unfinished.
The final climax of an emotional day was the image of young John Kennedy, or John-John as the public affectionately called him, saluting his father’s casket as it passed by.
As difficult as those days were, I also felt encouraged by the fact that our Constitution works. It allowed for a peaceful and orderly transfer of power during a frightening and chaotic time. There was no need to call out the troops or the fear of living under military control. During the darkest of times people knew what to do and the government continued as usual without a glitch.
The world has changed a lot since that dark November day. Some say it was the end of innocence and I agree with that statement. We no longer had the happy and carefree days of the 1950’s. The world became a little more cynical and a lot crazier.
After that, the Viet Nam war escalated and drugs raised its evil head in our society. In college there was even the phrase, “Tune in and turn out.” The world started going at a faster and faster pace which left us exhausted and frustrated. Now, 50 years later the world continues on its frantic tempo. My own theory is that on Nov. 22, 1963 we learned that things can change in an instant; a world can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye. This uncertain fate can affect anyone, even a promising young president. Now, people are out to grab what they can as fast as they can, leading to more and more greed.
It would be nice to turn back the clocks to Nov. 21, 1963 and find a way to change history. There are even a couple of books out discussing this prospect. But, since we know that is impossible let us learn from this experience. Take time to embrace life more fully; give your family and loved ones hugs; take time to talk with a neighbor; or give a stranger a smile.
We don’t know the future and can’t change the past so let’s make the most of the moment we have. Carpe diem!