Remembering JFK

November 22, 2006 by susan

by susan lenfestey

Is there anyone my age, give or take, who doesn't get a jolt each time November 22 rolls onto the calendar?

It's often said that we all remember exactly where we were when we heard that JFK had been shot -- what we were doing and thinking at that moment. That's the bonding of shared memory '" what Pearl Harbor was for the Greatest Generation, what 9-11 is for this one. It's the point in time indelibly etched in our psyche, the pin in the middle of our memory map from which we make our way, attached as if by string to that center.

But there's more to it than the bonding of a moment in time.

For Boomers like me -- 17 in 1963 -- the assassination, followed by the murders of MLK and Bobby Kennedy, obscured the horizon line that JKF had so brilliantly limned.

He had coaxed us out from under our bomb shelter desks and the fears of the era, whether McCarthy's homegrown Commies or the Ruskie variety and their A-bombs. He started the Peace Corp '" imagine, when it now seems radical to suggest a Department of Peace -- where we could enlist to help people, not kill them; where we would work to make America safer by understanding other cultures, not by bullying them.

Under his watch we began to face up to the rank injustice of racial discrimination, and white hands joined black hands -- at lunch counters, on buses, in the jails and in death -- and the laws, at least, were changed and enforced, thanks to the vision, patience and grace of Dr. King, but also to the backing of Bobby Kennedy's Justice Department.

When Dr. King was shot in April of 1968, followed by Bobby in June of the same year, the three men who had led us to believe we could shape a better world were obliterated. Their deaths, and the horror of the Vietnam war, left us in a world where cynicism replaced hope and suspicion replaced trust. Three gun blasts in five years killed far more than the intended victims.

JFK pointed us towards a glimmering moon, and for a while it seemed we had made it. Now we know that was just a small space ship with a handful of astronauts on board.

We peri-geezers, who had our aspirations so molded by these three men, take a lot of ridicule for our loopy world view, for our belief in equal rights and in not fouling our water and air, for not rushing headlong into unnecessary wars and in the dignity of the human spirit over the desirability of the dollar.

Well, we may have been beaten down, but we're not gone yet. Those who did make it to the moon turned the mirror back on earth, and we all saw the fragility or our common sphere. We have no choice but to keep on keeping on.

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