Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Recalling November 21st

When I was in sixth grade, in Mrs. Young's class, everything changed. After looking at the hole-in-her-head forehead scar for three months, everyone in the class morphed into adults. It wasn't her unfortunate deformity that caused the change in us nor was it our adolescent urgings. The door to our classroom blew open with the words, "The President has been shot!".

A small black and white television appeared in the room, perched on a wooden chair. We sat transfixed at the little screen partly because tv in the room was a first but also because the adults were scared. I don't recall seeing scared adults before then. Sure, we all screamed when LLS took a flying dive off the sliding board in our backyard but this was different.

We sat stunned as adults blew in and out of the room. We'd never seen expressions on teacher's faces like these. Is this what big folks fear looked like?

The school closed early on November 21st. My mom walked to school to get me and we walked home in silence. I was aping the solemnity of the school teachers. I suppose my mom was considering the new world of murdered authority figures. She was 41. I was eleven.

At dinner that night, we talked about the assassination. My father, whose politics I don't understand after all these years, spoke about how horrible the Kennedy's were. He didn't seem upset or scared or even perturbed that the Leader of the Free World was murdered in a Southern city.

I couldn't process what my response to President Kennedy's death was supposed to be. The teacher's behavior made sense. My mother's quiet response made sense. I couldn't understand why my Dad seemed non-plussed and rather pleased.

In I Corinthians 13, Paul says that we aren't to rejoice in the suffering of others. As a Sunday Schooled child, I knew this. My Dad was a Deacon, my mother on her way toward becoming a Presbyterian after years of belonging to the Episcopal Church. After dinner each night, we read from the Good News Bible (see American Bible Society for version). How did Dad's response match what we were taught?

Jaye Ramsey Sutter at her blog, A Winding Road in An Urban Area on Typepad, writes about dissonance. She won't think there is any similarity in her post which spawned this post of mine but I think like a stone in a pond. One plop in the water and my mind begins the circling motions outward. Thinking about the death of the President while watching my parents respond is an outgrowth of her blog post.

President Kennedy's death is a marker event for those of us in Mrs. Young's Sixth Grade Class. We've marker events since then but this one stands out today.

What are your marker events?


Quotidian Grace said...

This is one of my marker events, too. President Kennedy's motorcade passed in front of my high school in San Antonio as he traveled from the airport to the Alamo. Every politician had to speak in front of the Alamo. It's probably in the Constitution somewhere.

I saw the President, Jackie, LBJ and then-Texas Gov. John B. Connally. How shocked we all were the next day at the news that he was assassinated in Dallas!

Gov. Connally was also shot that day. He recovered and went on to become a partner in the law firm that my husband joined. I remember meeting him and his wife, Nellie. When he died a few years ago the doctors said a contributing cause of death was the injury he suffered on Nov. 21.

The country hasn't been the same since.

Anonymous said...

wasn't it the 22nd?

St. Casserole said...

The 22nd is correct, I think.

Purechristianithink said...

I wasn't born yet on the big day--but all day yesterday I kept thinking "Nov.22, Nov.22--there's something significant about that day. What is it?" I was thinking it must be my grandma's or great aunt's birthdays which were both in Novemeber. It wasn't till my husband came home and mentioned it was the 42nd anniversary of the assassination that I realized that THAT was the significant thing I associated with Nov. 22nd.

Sophia said...

My marker event was definitely the explosion of the Challenger.

It was a snow day in 5th grade and I watched it happen live on TV. I was devastated and I obsessed about it for months. Looking back now I think that I didn't really process my grandfather's death a year earlier until the Challenger tragedy.

Other marker events were the fall of the Berlin Wall and Gulf War 1.

My very earliest memory of hearing something on the news was when Skylab fell out of orbit in July 1979. I was not yet 5.

Anonymous said...

My marker events are mostly personal or to do with weather (my grandmother's death, the big storm of autum 1987), though I very dimly remember (I think) the Miners' Strike of the early eighties (I'm English and born in 1977). I suppose marker events like the death of President Kennedy represent a sudden entry into the wider world of public life and adulthood. I've been lucky to experience that as a slow dilation or my sphere of experience rather than a sudden, painful stretching.

peripateticpolarbear said...

I wasn't born for this one,, either, although it was absolutely a marker for my parents and I remember them talking about it as such. For me, 3 things stand out:

impeachment of Nixon---I was very young, but before that I thought that Presidents were like Jesus-faultless. My trust in authority definitely took a massive hit.

Challenger explosion---I was a college freshman, and it was the first time something bad happened, and my parents weren't there. I grew up.

9/11---I had been ordained 7 years then, but that was the day I really became a chaplain. I remember the eyes of the whole college staring at me, pleading, 'do something.' And I did. I remember hearing the planes take off over the roof of our little college and realizing that I really had to be the grown up, that these kids were like me during the challenger, but much more scared and in a much more precarious position.

the reverend mommy said...

The Challenger Explosion stands out in my memory -- it was a snow day in Atlanta my first year teaching. I was making a quilt top and took a minute to watch the launch. A good friend has come in third for the teacher in space and was good friends with Christa. I watched it in stunned horror imagining Carol in the explosion.

I watched the breakup of Columbia with the same horror.

9/11 was the day I picked my call back up again, after 20 years of denying it. We were supposed to be in a Ladies Bible Study -- instead we ended up in prayer in the sanctuary -- and I lead the prayers. And somehow I knew what I was supposed to be doing -- and what I had been called to do.

Songbird said...

I was just 2 and 1/2, but I remember watching the funeral procession on a little black-and-white TV. Over the years my mom often told the story of hearing the news.
But my marker event is really the Challenger explosion. I was 24, quite pregnant with #1 Son. I was at work at the undergrad library at U.Va. and the guy who managed all the A-V equipment set up a TV in the workroom where we all watched the explosion over and over again. It was the first time I remember video looping on TV to that extent. Now we see that all the time. So weird.

Friday Mom said...

I wasn't yet born when this happened. AM remembers it vividly, with a story similar to yours. For me, four events stand out:

Challenger Explosion....I was in college, walking through the student union and stopped to watch the launch on the big screen TV. I remember being so sad and angry that something like that could happen.

Tiananmen Square Massacre- I left Korea and stopped in Hong Kong the day after it happened. It was the first time in my life I actually participated in an event of such historical magnitude. It was the first time I experienced the grief of a nation and the first time I had a deep sense of the sacrifices people make for the sake of change for the better in this world.

Falling of the Berlin Wall - I went to visit my parents the day it came down. I had been in Germany just months before and had no idea I was seeing a the last of an era. What this event did for me, I think, is convince me that what I assumed would always be in this world could be changed.

9/11 - The fear and sadness, as well as the shame from seeing the eventual response of our nation to the event will be with me for the rest of my life.

And, just want you to know I'm praying for a blessed Thanksgiving for the Casseroles and all they love!