Surely It Hasn’t Been Half a Century…

A Time/Life video about the Zapruder film of Kennedy’s assassination.

All month I’ve been watching the vast array of programs about the assassination of President Kennedy. I tend to avoid the conspiracy ones (unless they use good detective work and science to disprove some of the wild theories); mostly I like the ones with films of news coverage that effectively recall that day as it was for those of us who experienced it directly.

In 2009 I wrote this post with my Boomer recollection of that dark day. I just reread it, and I really have nothing to add as far as recounting the details of that Friday and the days that followed.  I also wrote a bit about the assassination here in 2009; and this post examines how that tragedy and others shaped a bleak perspective about November that I didn’t shake until well into adulthood.

What to say now, on the 50th anniversary of the shooting of President John F. Kennedy? For one thing, it’s stunning to realize it’s been 50 years—not just that such a long time has passed but that I’m old enough to remember vividly something that happened half a century ago. In watching the various documentaries, I hear people in their ’70s and ’80s talk about how deeply the assassination impacted them, including professional journalists of print and TV; no wonder I still carry so much from that day. I was only nine years old when it happened.

I’d mentioned in the previously referenced blog post how a friend and I sat outside among the drifting final leaves of that autumn and discussed our astonishment at experiencing a historical event as momentous as Lincoln’s assassination had been. I personally had been oblivious to Kennedy’s crises with Cuba and Russia; and the Civil Rights push earlier in 1963 was something I was aware of in a general way, but it was something you heard about on the news, not history with all its drama and seismic shifts. From my undeveloped world view, it simply was stuff that was happening, but not the kind of stuff we read about in our history books. JFK’s death was an eye-opening realization that textbook-worthy history could happen to my generation as well, although I didn’t think of it in exactly those terms. I’d heard plenty about World War II and The Depression from my parents and grandparents; suddenly, here was history that belonged to my life as well.

The fact that November 22 falls on a Friday this year just as it did in 1963 has kept this anniversary in my mind as well, although I don’t know why. It’s as if time has opened a narrow passageway between that day 50 years ago and today–as if I can glide back and forth through that tube, actually living that day again in memory and sensory detail even as I’m experiencing the anniversary with all its retrospection and assessments. It’s a strange, unsettling sensation—of never having felt older and still feeling nine years old.

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