42 years ago, we sat in front of our television sets in complete shock. When the usually totally objective Walter Cronkite momentarily lost it on a live broadcast, he represented faces all over America, frozen in grief and disbelief.
It was an innocent time. Young, vigorous, charismatic, and eloquent, Jack Kennedy represented the dreams of the young. Into a political world filled with tired old detached men, he and his passionate New England intelligentsia swept like a fresh wind that promised a new world order and unlimited potential for all of us. We loved his accent, his hair, his humor, and his energy. We couldn’t wait to join the Peace Corps and remake the world.
For years, we quietly asked each other: Where were you when Kennedy was shot? We all knew exactly where we were and what we were doing when the news came. It was a moment frozen in time, a great divide between the promise that had shined so brightly and the unknown darkness that lay ahead after the light had been so prematurely extinguished.
Later, the cynicism of an ugly war, a string of assassinations, riots in the streets, and the paranoia of a secretive administration, would take their toll on our dreams, our desire to participate and to serve, and our belief in our leaders.
We put away our optimism, our social dedication, and our carefree belief in our ability to make a permanent difference. We moved into business, raised families, made money, and withdrew from the streets. We stopped marching, stopped voting, stopped caring. We lost our sense of trust and the heart in our fight for equality and peace slowly shriveled.
When I ask at work: Where were you when Kennedy was shot, I am greeted by blank stares from staff who weren’t even conceived in 1963. Despite the pain of that time, I feel deep sorrow for those who never had the opportunity to experience the excitement and euphoria of Camelot.
As the old saw states, “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” We lost a great and important part of ourselves on that grassy knoll in Dallas. But we are better people for the elation he gave us, the dreams he inspired, and the deep commitment to our fellow man that he generated within us.
Those who missed that rare shining moment are, all unaware, diminished in their souls. And those of us who were lucky enough to have that spirit enter our lives, however briefly, must each mourn his death alone.