from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

42 years ago 

I was the last one out of the locker room for the JV soccer game against Swarthmore, our arch-rival, because I was getting my ankles taped. As I was about to leave, I heard our (legendary) varsity coach Jimmy Mills talking about the president getting shot in Dallas. When I got out to the field,I started to tell the other guys about it, but since I was known as something of a joker at first my teammates refused to belief me. But the guys from Swarthmore came over and said they heard it on the bus. We only knew he had been shot, there were rumors the Johnson had been shot. Our coaches huddled and since they knew no more, decided to start the game.

This diary is my looking back. It will include my memories, burned into my mind at age 17, of a day crucial in the lives of those that experienced it and equally crucial to our nation. It will include some reflection and analysis. It will be uniquely mine.

The game was scoreless at halftime. Haverford’s coach, Jack Lester, told us at halftime the president was dead. Swarthmore’s coach stayed focused on the game. We went into shock. Swarthmore had the kickoff, and scored in the first 13 seconds. It was to be the game’s only score. I missed one goal I absolutely should have had. As the game wound down I stood alone at midfield as Swarthmore was taking corner kick, desperately hoping that our goalie Dave Kane could snag the ball and get it out to me for one more attempt on goal. I had heard the cheering of our star center back Oye Oyelaren during the game - he had encouraged me by name, and I wanted to live up to that. As the game ended I was angry and upset as I walked off the field.

The crowd tried to console us, but it was strange. Charlotte Austin, my girl friend, was trying to cheer me up, but she held a radio to her ear and was clearly in a state of shock . Others also had radios, and then I remembered - the president was dead.

The main athletic competition scheduled for Saturday the 23rd was almost canceled, then postponed to the following Wednesday after people would already have left for the Holiday. I would remember that later we could not understand why the NFL had been so insensitive and played its games on Sunday the 24th. But for some reason they decided the students needed to be encouraged, and we still had the dance that Saturday. It was weird -- people came because we wanted to be together, but not too many people went out on the dance floor - we were all too somber.

over the weekend I heard the Philadelphia broadcast of the Boston Symphony that Friday. It was a day concert. The conductor, Erich Leinsdorf, had lived in our town (Larchmont NY) while conducting at the Metropolitan Opera and I had known two of his boys, Greg a year ahead of me and Josh my classmate. During the concert they announced the shooting of the president, and then that the orchestra would play the funeral march from Beethoven's Third (Eroica) symphony. You could hear everyone in Symphony Hall Boston stand. To this day, hearing that movement invokes memories of 1963.

Like many, I was watching tv when Jack Ruby shot Oswald. That was a further shock. And like all on campus except those who went to Washington as did my roommate Doug Neal, I watch the various events of the mourning -- the body lying in state, the memorial service with Barber’s Adagio for Strings being played (another piece irrevocably tied in my mind to the events of that weekend), the funeral, the famous dignitaries in the procession to the cemetery. And most of all, the black horse with the reversed boots and John-John’s salute.

I am a teacher. Today, as I do each time this event falls on a school day, will revisit that day with my students. Many of those I now teach are children whose parents were not yet born. They have little sense of the impact it had on our generation and our nation. Yes, it was but one of many deaths by violence of public figures, including Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bobby Kennedy (whose 80th birthday would have been on Sunday and whose words at Indianapolis upon hearing of the death of King probably kept that city from rioting as did so many across the nation in April of 1968). One did not have to be a fan of Kennedy to have been shocked in 1963, in fact, even many who disliked Kennedy were nevertheless shocked and dismayed, something that many who did not live through it find it hard to grasp.

As a teacher I tell my students there are very few exact dates in American history one needs to know. Clearly July 4, 1776 is key. One might argue for the July 1-3 1863 of Gettysburg, and/or the 11th hour 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. The next absolutely critical day was Dec 7 1941. And then the day we remember today. And then 9/11/2001.

I tell my students that in some ways November 22, 1963 was more shocking to the nation than was 9-11, perhaps because we were far more innocent. Yes we had 3 previous presidents who had been assassinated (Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley), but it had been more than half a century, and the attempts on Teddy Roosevelt when he was campaigning in 1912, on FDR when he was President-elect and on Truman in Blair House did not have the same impact, not only because they were not successful, but because we did not have the impact of widespread television coverage. Sept. 11 was shocking, even for those of us who lived through Kennedy’s assassination, but Pearl Harbor had shown us we were not invulnerable to foreign attack, American targets had been successfully attacked overseas, and we had had terrorism at home, including the bombing of the Capital well before either the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center or McVeigh’s attack in Oklahoma City.

The death of Kennedy in a sense represent a lost of innocence. It may have been a false sense of innocence, but it served as a rude awakening to many. The series of deaths that followed through 1968 served to move many from shock to disillusionment to cynicism. I cannot predict with any accuracy how Vietnam might have been different had Kennedy lived. I can wonder if, absent the violence against leaders who inspired, the anti-war reaction would have been as bitter and divisive as it became.

I will be 60 before this anniversary again comes upon us. I look back now on more than 2/3 of my life. There are few events that hit me as hard, perhaps because I was 17 at the time -- old enough to realize the impact of what had happened, and young enough that it was that event that caused me to become really focused on public discourse and its consequences.

November 22, 1963. 42 years ago. I cannot forget. And as I reflect, I hope that I am able to use my memories of that time to help move my country forward, to a time and place where violence - physical or verbal - is not seen as an acceptable way of settling our disputes. I hope that my service as a teacher can help my students learn how to disagree without being disagreeable.

But most of all, I hope that we never again have to go through such a shock. No matter how much I may dislike our current political leadership, I wish no violence upon them. No matter how wrong I think our actions towards other nations may be, I wish for no more 9-11’s. And I hope that I can model how to remember, to grieve for a time now lost where we were full of the optimism of what this nation could be, and inspire others to strive once again for such a time.

Comments, suggestions and even rude remarks are welcomed!
Email accepted at "kber at earthlink dot net"
Preface email messages with "teacherken" so I know they are not spam.
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