Friday, November 22, 2013

Day of Tragedy Day of Hope

It is the 50th anniversary of the November 22, 1963 assassination of the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, the nation's first Catholic president. The event is indelibly etched in my mind, of course, as it is etched when I witnessed the first African American 44th President of the United States, Barack H. Obama take his oath of office. I think not only of the stark differences between the events because of their different historical eras but I also think about the stark similarities of them too. Both, it can, I think, be correctly said, were two nation-altering events.

My father, the political force in my family, was until his own death, a Republican. He supported Richard Nixon in the 1960 election and because he did so did I. I even pasted a "Nixon/Lodge" bumper sticker on my three-ring school binder. When Kennedy won the 1960 presidency I was disappointed my guy, -- my father's guy -- Nixon, lost. It is hard to imagine that time in those ever-so-innocent days that I, a passionately pugnacious Democrat, now, could ever have supported Nixon then. I excused this later. If Hillary Clinton could be a "Goldwater Girl" in 1964 then I could be for Nixon in 1960. The times and we were different then. My innocence, later, would disintegrate as a desert mirage.

I was 15 years old in 1963, a freshman in high school. I remember the November 22nd moment to this 2013 day. I was getting out of high school at 2:00 p.m. I remember a young man running in the corridor of the one-floor Framingham South High School saying the president had been shot. I was incredulous and thought it was a cruel joke. Later, getting into my post-polio special needs school bus I asked my driver, Mrs. Zink, if it was true. She had the radio on as the fateful news assaulted our ears. We, like most, were aghast and thought it impossible. We both sat there in tomb-like silence.

As a youth I had never been witness to great national tragedy or even special leadership. I had never known the Great Depression, I had not known FDR, Winston Churchill, nor had I ever heard of the New Deal, bread lines, dust bowls and, thankfully, I did not experience the Holocaust of Europe nor any of World War II. When a young black girl in my class said she could never be elected a class officer because she was black I looked at her as if she said the earth were made of plastic. Surely, she was wrong. No, alas, she was not wrong. She was exactly right but I did not understand that then. I -- a white young woman -- felt infinitely safe, free and untouched by politically violent events until the first one that touched me and so many others that fateful November day.

My innocence running parallel to the nation's innocence was lost that day. I would experience many more national tragedies since and my politics would be shaped by them. I began to sit permanently on the left side of the political spectrum as the tragedies of succeeding eras would be many and extreme -- Vietnam, the assassination of Martin Luther King, the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the siege of civil rights era -- a siege that consumed Emmitt Till, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, three civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner murdered for registering black voters in Mississippi and three young girls Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombed by vicious Klu Klux Klan racists – a national hangover from the Civil War era. And of course there would be more violence inflicted on 26 children victims of Newtown gun violence to 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, other wars too numerous to mention and body bags too numerous to count.

President John Kennedy in 1960 was, during our age of national innocence, our national hope. Three years later he was a nation's tragedy. We would never be a nation at peace for very long again. Never would I question that to be black in this nation is infinitely more difficult than to be born white. Never would I NOT question a nation's foreign policy and its devastating consequences.

In our time the 2008 election of our first African American president rekindled that same hope I had before November 22, 1963, the day of ended innocence. The election of the 44th president of the United States is filled, though, with conflicts and a great divide testing our national endurance. Perhaps, we have always been divided but that young innocent girl in 1963 never felt it until things changed from hope to tragedy by a ne’er-do-well in Dallas.

Barack Obama was my hope in 2008 and remains so now despite his enemies' goal of destruction, obstruction, interposition and nullification that my young eyes never knew was part of our national complexion since its beginning. But hope, as the cliché says, springs eternal and is part of our national complexion too.
As the late Senator from Massachusetts, Teddy Kennedy, brother of the slain president so appropriately said:

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die