Saturday, November 22, dawned. I pored over newspapers and the Internet. Nothing.
I watched a little TV. Nothing there, either.
Finally, I had to mention it.
“Doesn’t anyone realize,” I said loudly, “that today is the 45th anniversary of JFK’s assassination?”
Everybody in my yoga class stared at me like I’d done something indiscreet. It was like I’d broken wind or confessed to being a Republican.
“Are you sure?” one person asked.
“Forty-five years,” I said. “Of course, I’m sure.”
“You must have a good memory,” somebody else said. Somebody young.
Not really. But how could anybody forget that date? For years, we defined ourselves by that event. Where we were, who had told us, how shocked we’d been. How could we ever relate to anyone, we asked ourselves, who hadn’t been alive and cognizant when Kennedy had been assassinated? Someone who didn’t share our cultural memory of a tragedy that shaped our nation?
All these years later, I’m still not sure this country has ever really gotten over the Kennedy assassination. You only have to learn its lesson once: That any loser with good aim can derail the world. (I’m not, obviously, a conspiracy buff. I’m too cynical for that. I think life tends toward chaos and randomness; things — including conspiracies and secrecies — fall apart. Silences are inevitably broken.)
But the day, November 22, 2008, came and went. Finally, on Sunday, I read a wire story about how Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the site of the assassination, was crowded with hundreds of onlookers, with people who simply had to be there so they could remember.
Forty-five years. It’s sinking into history, becoming as musty and faded as Lincoln’s assassination, McKinley’s, Garfield’s. It’s consigned to the memories of people who are growing old, but not forgetful about this one thing: The little guy with the cold eyes and deranged mind and muddled politics can wield untold destruction. We’re not safe. We’re never safe. Don’t ever forget that.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)