Those who believe that "9/11" will always stop traffic should note how little is said of its predecessor date of significance, the date on which the President of the United States was murdered in Texas.
I was eleven years old then, in sixth grade. That morning, my class had a brief discussion of "current events" (the ruling outlawing the payers which had started the school day was only a few months old and teachers used it as a way to get us to think about the world around us---a daunting task in sixth grade). We knew who the President was (and living in New Jersey I was proud that the President came from the same state as the one where I was born: Massachusetts), that he was much younger than President Eisenhower was, had a sense of humor, and seemed eager to get us motivated to do something: what it was was quite unclear to me.
By the end of that day I joined the Planet Earth as an independent person. There has not been a day since then that I have not read a newspaper and worried about how the rest of the world impacts on what happens to the people closest to me.
The reason his death was so meaningful to so many of us has been well documented elsewhere. All I can add is that both Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy meant something to a little boy as sort of a symbol of greatness of what someone can achieve and, especially in President Kennedy, hope.
I have never felt the same since. It is a day I remember precisely and with a sadness that comes every year on November 22, a date I can only look at with the same horror as it held in 1963.
Last year, at about this time, Pete Fornatale played the Byrds (or Roger McGuinn's) version of these lyrics on the radio a year ago. They have had extraordinary meaning for me since I first heard them in the mid 1960s:
He was a friend of mine, he was a friend of mine
His killing had no purpose, no reason or rhyme
He was a friend of mine
He was in Dallas town, he was in Dallas town
From a sixth floor window a gunner shot him down
He was in Dallas town
He never knew my name, he never knew my name
Though I never met him I knew him just the same
Oh he was a friend of mine
Leader of a nation for such a precious time
He was a friend of mine
He was, and continues to be a hero to me: the greatest American to have lived during my time on this planet and his presence in this country remains extremely strong today.
The postscript to this essay from a year ago comes from the same passage of the most famous inaugural address we have ever heard, that has been quoted so often since November 4, and today:
Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths, and encourage the arts and commerce.
Let both sides unite to heed, in all corners of the earth, the command of Isaiah -- to "undo the heavy burdens, and [to] let the oppressed go free." And, if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor -- not a new balance of power, but a new world of law -- where the strong are just, and the weak secure, and the peace preserved.
All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days; nor in the life of this Administration; nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.
In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.
Now the trumpet summons us again--not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need--not as a call to battle, though embattled we are-- but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, "rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation"--a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.
Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?
In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility--I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
Yes, we can.