Friday, November 22, 2013

Our Parents' Pearl Harbor

President Kennedy lies in repose, East Room of the White House, 1963,, Public Domain Photo

Greetings All:

"I suppose the only place anyone remembers where they were was when Pearl Harbor was attacked."  

I remember hearing the voice of John F. Kennedy saying that on some history program.  Pearl Harbor was a horrible day and horrible days have a way of burning their way into our memories.  Fifty years ago, another horrible day occurred with the death of President Kennedy.  

All throughout the news there will stories on the 50th anniversary.  The conversation will turn to the assassination and conspiracy.  People of my parents age will almost certainly be able to tell you where they were when they heard the news.  Time stood still.  It was our parents' Pearl Harbor.  For a series of ugly, long days, the nation stared at the lying in state.  Its heart collectively broke at the image of the child's salute to his father's coffin.  I asked my Mom once to describe how she felt and she offered a one-word answer:  "Numb."

When I think of Kennedy's assassination, I cannot help but think of the parallels to 9/11.  Both were days of such shock and horror that those of the age of memory will recall exactly where they were and what they were doing.  It was our  JFK killing.  It was our shared moment of tragedy.

I would suspect some may take issue with my comparison as being less than parallel.  After all, in '63 one person was killed.  In '01, it was 3000.  Kennedy's killing was a shock to the nation's system.  9/11 was an act of war.  The list goes on.  My point is not to conduct some mathematical calculations on the degree of tragedy.  It is instead to make the point that since 1941 there have been three events that impacted our nation across the board.  I am not aware of any other such event that could trigger in millions of people an immediate, common response of, "I was _____ when I heard the news."

Unlike Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy's assassination played out on T.V.  Unlike the assassination, 9/11 played out on the internet.  The medium for sharing the news and experiencing the details changed yet the emotional landscape remained the same.  That medium was inside every person's thoughts.  Tragedy transcends technology.

And I suppose in 38 years there will be similar pauses as there are now for 9/11.  I am in favor of remembering 9/11 every year just so long as it doesn't have the word "SALE" in front of it.  I hope that as we recall the Kennedy assassination, we honor the man for his good deeds and amazing oratory.  I hope we also remember he was a man, a man of limitations and personal failings.  Those limitations do not distract from his works, simply remind us they were works performed by a mortal like the rest of us.

I believe an honest review of our leaders empowers us to best learn from them.  To learn from them at their best and the other times.  Unlike Pearl Harbor, where the formal investigation was almost a non-story, 9/11 was THE story.  The 9/11 Commission's work was broadcasted, reported,  written, praised vilified and everything in between.  Here's the link to the 585-page report:

Then there was the JFK commission and the debates of just what happened in Dallas.  My local movie theater was replaying "JFK" a couple of days ago.  I suspect they will be playing it again 10 years from now.  My guess is we will never know all that happened.  I do know that if it had happened today, investigators would have thousands of iPhone videos to review.

Fifty years ago, our parents had their Pearl Harbor event.  Twelve years ago, my generation had our JFK moment.  What will be our kids'?  Perhaps none.  I doubt it.  I hope I'm wrong, but I doubt it.  

I was going to the post with that line but found it to be too negative. I try to be an optimist.  Not so much that I ignore reality but still try to find the good, the positive somewhere.  When thinking about JFK and its place in history, its impact on those of us in the present, I'm coming up short.  Time for a call to the booth, so to speak:

I'll wrap up with a reading from the third chapter of Ecclesiastes:  "There is an appointed time for everything...a time to be born and a time to die...a time to love and a time to hate...a time of war and a time of peace."  This was one of the prayers offered at the funeral Mass.  

We have an appointed time before us- today.  It is our choice to do with it what we will.  Just my two-cents, but it seems to me that regardless of what tragedy we know, from history or personal experience, our actions going forward become our recognition, our ownership of it.  When we do good deeds, act kindly, practice gratitude or simply choose to be happy, we pay tribute.  It is a silent one, known only to us and God.  It will never be in the history books.  No one else will ever say, "I was _____ when..."  Therein lies the beauty, and the fitting tribute.  It's a tribute as unique as ourselves and it shows that we reject the legacy of hate and darkness of those days.  Who knows, if enough of us do this enough times, perhaps our kids will not have their "moment."

It's something to think about.  R.I.P., JFK.

Be well my friends,


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