If you are old enough to remember when JFK was shot, you remember where you were that day. That is an example of the power of memory I recently discussed in Harness the Power of Nostalgia to Find Happiness .
If you were not old enough or not around yet in 1963, I am sure you have read and heard many stories surrounding that day and the times of the 1960’s.
And this is my story of that day:
50 Years Ago – A Day of Shock Remembered: JFK Assassinated
We all know the ever-burning light on J.F. Kennedy’s resting place but not everyone was alive or too young when it was lid.
“Where were you?” was the question today among many of us – boomers and pre-boomers – old enough to remember. Or, our children, grandchildren or the young who are curious and asked us.
And so the question circled in the women’s locker room at the YMCA. A group of us had just finished a water aerobics class. Most of us were old enough to remember this day 50 years ago. The conversation became lively. Everyone shared some brief memories of the moment.
But Elsa shared a vivid picture of the common mood everyone recalled: shock, stunned, disbelief, intense grief, almost despair:
I was 18 and went with my mom to the mall to do some early Christmas shopping,” Elsa said. “Suddenly we heard from somewhere, a loud-speaker or what, saying that the President was shot, dead. We stood there like frozen; so did others who had heard it. And then my mother said: ‘Let’s go to that TV store over there, they might have the TV on. I think this is some crazy guy trying a prank on us. ‘I don’t remember how long we were at that TV store. But it was long. More and more people came in but nobody talked; we all stared at that TV; remember those black & white ones at that time. Then my mother whispered to me: ‘Let’s go, what will become of us? What have we done? We killed him. Oh my, my, my.’ She just shook her head. And on our way home, Mom didn’t say nothing. In the car, I looked over and tears were running down her cheeks. ‘Elsa,’ she said, ‘we have to light a candle at home; I need some hope and strength for our country to pull through this one. We just don’t kill our own President, do you know what that means?’ she whispered.
Unexpectedly, the group asked me: “And where were you, do you remember any?” I took a deep breath. My memory was unlike anyone’s in the locker room. I was still thinking about what Elsa’s Mom said: “. . . do you know what that means?” No, I did not know what that meant, nor did I have any concept of the President or our government. All I knew was his name, President John F. Kennedy, though I was old enough to know: 22 years old.
November 1963: I just had gotten my first job as a nurse at St. Vincent Hospital in New York City, N.Y., equipped with two tiny dictionaries, one English-German for the left pocket and one German-English for the right. I barely could speak English. I had left Germany in April of that year with a one-way ticket to New York to start a new life and to follow the American Dream like so many of the WWII generation.
I did not know what that Dream really meant. But, when around 1946 the American soldiers had occupied our small town, they were incredibly kind to us children. They gave us chewing gum (my first), white bread and yellow cheese – not any ‘cheese cake’ will come close to the delicious taste of that slice I remember. The soldiers were so much fun, played loud music and were sitting in the windows with their legs dangling – unheard of or tolerated in our homes. I so loved that ‘free spirit!’ and I knew later that those were the seeds of my dream planted.
Back to November 22, 1963. I was standing at the nurses’ station with another nurse and a doctor who was writing notes in a patient chart. Someone came over, said something to us but I could not understand it. The nurse burst out: “Good!” The doctor threw the pen and chart on the desk and lost it. He screamed at the nurse: “You are a disgrace!” I captured the word ‘disgrace,’ turned around to quickly look it up in my little dictionary. Others came and quite a commotion erupted. Patients came out of their rooms; a shock wave filled the hallway. The nurse was nowhere seen for the rest of the day. I slowly understood what had happened.
Reflecting back, that significant moment had profoundly affected me. I later realized that the hospital hallway that day, Nov. 22, 1963, represented a micro-community of our society: the politically opposing expressions; the immigrant; the people responding as the people to the horror of the moment and seeking comfort from each other. They all were free to express their feelings openly. That day also raised my curiosity to become informed, to learn and to understand better what America really means and why so many like myself seek the American Dream. It is the FREEDOM: freedom to express, freedom to develop, freedom to live.
JFK’s assassination was an attack on our freedom and spirit. But did they break? Absolutely not! If it were so, the light on his memorial site would be long extinct. Instead, people from all over the world visit, absorb the glow of the fire and trust its meaning:
And The Glow From That Fire Can Truly Light The World!