Bob Dylan wrote a song about it recently. He called it “Murder Most Foul.” It was November 22, 1963. The day President John Kennedy died in Dallas, struck down by an assassin’s bullet.
I was a senior in high school. It was a Friday, and we were looking forward to Thanksgiving and the Holidays. Football had ended, with our Corry Beavers finishing with another winning record. Many of my classmates and I were in Mrs. Ortner’s French class when the voice of our principal, Leroy Peck, came over the intercom. “The President has been shot,” is what I remember. He must have told us more, but the shock of the news silenced my brain. In a few minutes, he announced that the President was dead.
We were so young back then. But suddenly we became old. We had lost our President, and much more. Many dreams died that awful day. Kennedy had inspired us and challenged us. He spoke of living life with “vigor” which of course he pronounced “vigah.” He had galvanized us to reach for the moon by the end of the decade. He initiated physical fitness programs that motivated us to be healthy and strong. I started lifting weights and running, because my President told me to be my best.
Yes, the dream died that day in Dallas. We lost our innocence; a black question mark blotted the sky like a storm cloud. I think we began to lose faith in government at that moment. Ensuing investigations arrived at answers that left many questions. Conspiracy theories began to emerge, and they still plague us. They undermine the trust we once had in authority and in each other.
Vietnam soon followed, adding to our cynicism. Many of us chose to fight that war; millions of others saw it as a lost cause from the outset. Some of my friends fled to Canada to avoid the draft. Some of my own family joined protests against the conflict in Southeast Asia.
Who knows how the 1960’s would have unfolded if Kennedy had lived? Many historians believe the Vietnam War would have turned out much differently. I agree with others who have said that much of the strife our nation endured in that tumultuous time would have been lessened by the wisdom, foresight, and compassion that JFK would have left as a legacy.
Yes, it happened on a Friday. And I remember that churches were filled the following Sunday. Americans needed to hold onto something that was firm and lasting. Our nation needs a spiritual rebirth today, in our own time of conflict and division. But this renewal with not come from only one narrow and exclusionary world view. It will be a decision human beings will make to live together in harmony and to listen to one another. For Christians, it will mean following Christ in ways of love and acceptance. For those of other faiths and those of no religion, it will in a similar way manifest itself in words and deeds of kindness.
The dream died sixty years ago, but perhaps we can revive it. Maybe the eternal flame in Arlington National Cemetery will guide us to a better country and a safer world.
Rest in Peace, President Kennedy. You will always be my hero.