I was standing in the bathroom, washing my hair in the sink. I had the TV on and heard the news come on. I remember walking out to the living room and standing there, water just running off my head, as I stared at the TV in shock.
That was what my grandmother said any time the assassination of JFK was brought up. She talked about that day in November of 1963, eight years before I was born, the same way I talk about the Challenger disaster, or 9/11. My grandmother would have been 41 at the time, a little younger than I am now. Tampa, where I grew up, was a special player in the events, because JFK visited here a few days before the Dallas trip. We even have a Kennedy Boulevard, which was part of his motorcade route and renamed in his memory.
Growing up, I remember the constant shadow over the events of that day. The conspiracy theories.
When I was with my ex husband, we ran an auto repair business. One of our customers was an elderly couple. The husband had been a radio operator onboard Air Force One that day in Dallas, and had interesting, albeit sad, anecdotes about Lyndon Johnson that tragic day.
It’s only been in the past few years that science has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that, yes, Oswald could have made the killing shots from his nest. It will likely never be able to disspell all the surrounding mystery, or answer other questions about various conspiracy theories. I heard an interetsting theory just the other day that it’s hard for people to believe that one angry young man, who obviously had other issues going on in his life, could have been “lucky” enough to snuff out such a vibrant man. The person being interviewed went on to posit something along the lines of when you can have an angry, disturbed lone gunman walk into a school or a movie theatre and take lives, it’s not such a stretch to think they’d go after such a high-profile target. Especially fifty years ago, when the Secret Service didn’t have all the high-tech equipment they have today, or the inherently evil acts to take into consideration that we read about on an increasingly frequent basis.
Yes, JFK was flawed and human. We can debate ad naseum what might have been. But today is an indellible mark on our history, a slub in the threads of our shared history and consciousness. A mark that can easily be conjured with a name, just as so many others can. Dallas. 9/11. Sandy Hook. Challenger. Columbia. Three Mile Island. Katrina. Mt. St. Helens. Columbine. Aurora. Virginia Tech. Andrew. Sandy. Triangle Shirtwaist. Jonestown. Johnstown. Luby’s. Texas Bell Tower. Hindenburg. Apollo 1.
There are more, many more, too numerous to count, especially if you start taking events outside our nation’s borders into consideration. They all are woven into the tapestry of our national history. For some, as active witnesses or survivors, for others as students or children watching events unfold through old footage or the words of others. Some are deliberate acts of evil, some are simply acts of nature, and some are the result of hubris or human fuck-ups.
The only thing we can do is pick up and move forward, hopefully wiser, stronger, and more unified with our fellow Americans as a result. And to never let such incidents ever completely be laid to rest in our collective memories, lest we forget the painful lessons they teach.