Remember how he made us feel


Every single day is a distinctive, one-of-a-kind, never to be repeated occurrence until the end of time. That sounds dramatic but it's true; we just usually don't stop and note this fact. Today is one unique event on the cosmic calendar, and so was yesterday. Tomorrow too. All unrepeatable and never to be witnessed again in exactly the same form and under these same precise conditions.We just don't notice, unless ....

Which brings us to Nov. 22, 1963, a day forever inscribed in our collective memory as the day that JFK was assassinated. On the 50th anniversary of this dramatic moment in the life of our nation, there is still a collective unresolved grief that consumes us as we revisit those painful events that changed the course of history.

I was was only five years old in 1963, and yet I have powerful emotional memories that are being stirred by all the attention focused on that single moment. We still ask each other where were you when you found out that President Kennedy had been shot? My mother was on her way to Mrs. Southerland's class at the elementary school when she heard the news on the radio. She pulled over to the side of the road and cried, went to her meeting, then came home and sat glued to the TV set for three days and wept.

There was a widespread gut feeling that something had been lost that was irreplaceable. The assassination created a wound in the collective psyche of a nation, as if something important, formidable and precious had been taken away from us. Some call it a loss of innocence. However, I also understand it as a loss of purpose or resolve: what we might accomplish by all pulling together in service of something larger than any one of us. That is the meaning of Kennedy's famous lines that more than once have awakened me to a higher calling: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

Is there some way we can return to that collective call of self in service to a greater good? A return to a more heroic path? For that's what JFK was to us, he was the last of the the real-time heroes. Not a perfect man by any means, but somehow we collectively gathered around him in a way that was likely to bring out the best in all of us, both individually and as a nation. We had a sense of possibility then, like the blooming of a great field filled with millions of flowers. Now we wonder, where have all those flowers gone? Where has our fallen hero gone?

On the 50th anniversary of the murder of JFK and the death of the dream he offered us, there is a bittersweet need to revisit what was lost, to let our tears flow and rush together into a mighty river, finally to wash and heal us of our grief, and at the same time remind us of what might have been.

As we circle around again to draw close to that moment in time when the whole world fell silent, we are like a comet that is orbiting back within view. And in this moment a tiny window of opportunity presents itself once more to whisper in our ears a promise of greatness that was meant for us as a people, as Americans, as a nation. One word captures the meaning of Camelot and a time that once was -- greatness, a vision that was the signature of the Kennedy presidency, until that fateful day in 1963 when those gunshots deafened us, at least temporarily, to what we may be.

I look forward to this remembrance, though it carries an ache and sadness that keeps surprising me. As we grieve and huddle together to bear the pain on the anniversary of a fallen hero, perhaps we will hear the echo of JFK calling us one more time to greatness.

Jon Schottland is a psychotherapist, educator and writer who lives in Brattleboro.


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