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November 22, 2005 > A winter day

A winter day

For many of us, the date November 22, 1963 is unforgettable; one that is easily remembered without studying a history book or reading about conspiracy theories. Just as for those alive and old enough to comprehend the moment of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the day of President John F. Kennedy's assassination will forever be a special mark in time. This was the day that so-called "Camelot," with a young, dashing leader and a picture-perfect family gave way to chaos, violent change and a seemingly endless wave of assassinations or murderous attempts. Later revelations of fissures in the outwardly faultless landscape of Kennedy's presidency and personal life were of little import at the time. Hope gave way to despair and the United States entered a period of upheaval and revolution.

It is interesting how some events are indelibly printed on the map of neurons and synapses of the brain. Maybe shock burns a pathway so deeply that nothing will erase the imprint. In my case, as a first year student at Earlham College, a small Midwestern school, the clouds of Vietnam and civil unrest were still beyond the horizon; classroom studies and extracurricular activities were all important. A chilly day heralded the change from fall to winter, interesting weather for someone weaned on a Los Angeles climate. Classes were over for the day and I was heading to the soccer fields for intramural play. A light rain began to fall; a distant shout filled with pain and disbelief announced that the president had been shot.

This was indecipherable news and college students, most of us too young and immature to understand the enormity of the message, milled around uncertainly without a frame of reference. Slowly, the words took on substance and the fields were abandoned; everyone headed for the comfort of dormitories and common rooms with television sets. There was little comprehension at that point and less understanding of what meaning this had for us, our country and the world. It was the shot across the bow of the world that heralded the end of innocence and the sense of American righteousness. It was the beginning of dark days filled with uncertainty, war, unrest and despair.

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