Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I will always remember!

John F. Kennedy
Cover of John F. Kennedy
I remember the day!

Lined up for a spelling bee in Ms. Salemi's sixth grade class at Riley Elementary School in Northlake, Illinois, I will never forget. Word came over the intercom that President John F. Kennedy had been killed by an assassin's bullet.

Moments before, the room was filled with gregarious pre-teens. But upon hearing that tragic news, we watched our teacher--a young, pretty, single woman who had been our inspiration, our mentor--as she begin to weep. She tried to hide her emotion from her students, but it was as if she was personally touched by this tragedy. It was like she had heard of the death of her best friend. Try as she might, she couldn't hide such raw emotion--no one could. Many of us cried with her.

Though the full gravity of the events of that afternoon were unknown to us at the time, we were mature enough to know that something horrible had occurred. We knew that this day would be one we would always remember.

I'm not sure whether it was the assassination of a popular U.S. President or the emotional display of our teacher, but we were keenly aware that something bigger than us was very different, very wrong. We had no way of knowing how different. No one did.

Living through the rest of that day was like being in a fog. There was no relief. When we returned home from school, it continued. Our television sets were taken over by news of the assassination, and then days of mourning and the funeral. I watched every day of the coverage. Even today, if there is a major news event, I watch as events unfold, following to their conclusion.

We felt the uneasiness in the pit of our stomachs that afternoon, perhaps for the first time. Like a tiny microcosm we experienced the same horror, dread, and tragedy felt by the entire country and the world the day the President of the United States was assassinated.

I believe that day really did change us--as individuals, as well as a country. We were shaken by this event, to our very core. We lost our innocence that day.

I was young--I admit that I knew little about the world around me. But for me, I think this event lit a tiny spark of curiosity, a yearning to learn about what lies beyond the walls of the small bungalow my family called home. I learned to question, even the obvious. It wasn't until years later that those embers began to light.

The fire continues to burn.

Nov.22: Lyndon Baines Johnson is sworn in as U...
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I will never forget the image of Jackie Kennedy, her blood-stained pink suit, the blank look on her sad face as Lyndon Johnson was sworn in to succeed her husband as President of the United States. She had lived the life of a princess but suddenly was faced with unimaginable horror. I felt such empathy for her that I wanted to burst.

But even with years of healing, the scars remain. I do not for one moment believe that Kennedy was killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, a lone-shooter from high above that Dallas street. I no longer trust all that I hear or read. I believe truth means different things to different people. I abhor violence. Deranged people should not have access to weapons. Evil people do exist.

I don't think I am very different from my classmates lined up on opposite sides of the room for that spelling bee forty-eight years ago. One thing is certain; we will always be a generation that remembers the day Kennedy was killed. It will forever be a sad reminder of how good things rarely last.

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