For those born before November 22, 1963, there was hope. The world was changing, but everyone felt that our best days were ahead, and in that there was hope. But then came that fateful day, and hope didn’t seem so eternal.
For those alive on this date 50 years ago, where we were and what we were doing became forever etched in our memories when word of the assassination of JFK flashed across the news. That memory became mingled with other images of those times: a young President and his wife beginning their day in Dallas; an open limo passing a building; a club owner in a hat shooting the alleged assassin; a young son saluting his fallen father; and an eternal flame. The nation optimistically supported their leaders and new styles of music, clothes, cars and culture pointed us hopefully towards the future. And then hope seemed to come to a halt.
Walter Cronkite cried on TV, regular people cried on the street, and we sat in front of our TVs and cried while we watched this incredible event unfold. Those next 4 days were filled with shock and sadness: if you weren’t there, it’s hard to imagine how stunned and shocked the nation was, or how a single tragic act could so totally change our outlook on life and…. hope.
It’s been 50 years, and yet after all this time the memory of that day still looms large in our minds. And even though there have been other shocking events since then: the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., the Vietnam war, the Iranian hostages, the Oklahoma City bombing, 9/11, and so many more (both big and small), the one that happened on this day 50 years ago today seems to represent “the day, the music died” (thank you Don McLean and Bye Bye Miss American Pie).
But all the recent documentaries on the life and legacy of JFK remind us that hope really is resilient. The images from that event so long ago faded quickly as life went on, and over time those were replaced by the ebb and flow of the regular things that happen, and because we’re all optimists at heart, hope was re-born, re-kindled, and re-established – life does go on after terrible events, and while the memories never go away, the challenge and belief in new horizons help us to go on. Because no matter how long or short a life, it’s only one of many in our vast universe, and if any of those lives is well lived, then, like a comet, it leaves a bright streak across the sky to help light the way for the rest of us. And in that light there is: hope.
My message this week is based on one of the many quotes from JFK:
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” John F. Kennedy
We still mourn the death of JFK all those years ago and still marvel at the affect his words continue to have on us after all these years: asking not what the country can do for us but rather what we can do for the country, responding to the cold war by challenging America to put a man on the moon; and asking us to overcome our prejudices and promote civil rights. Those were different and difficult times, and as shocking and riveting as those events were, they quickly became part of the larger and continuing patchwork that represented all the times of our lives.
Looking back now it’s amazing how things like the Beatles’ first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show just 3 short months later helped us to go on and focus on both the here and now and the future. In hindsight is the understanding that all of the things we experience allow us to keep going and to have hope. The people we meet, the friends and colleagues we have, and the families we love: they all form the nucleus of the lives we lead. And the lesson is this is that no matter what, we must always find time to thank the people who make a difference in our lives.