Friday, November 22, 2013

50 Years Ago In Dallas

On November 22, 1963, I was 9 years old and off from school that day because I felt sick.
I was under the covers of my parents bed and watching the black and white television they had in their bedroom.  For some reason my Dad was home that day and he come upstairs to see how I was when the television programming stopped and the unbelievable and shocking news was announced that President John F. Kennedy has been shot in Dallas and died.
I had never seen my father cry before and I didn't know what to do.  He went over to the window and raised his left arm up against the wall and pressed his head into the crook of his elbow and starting crying.  I silently watched his shoulders shake for a few minutes.  I pulled the sheets up to my face and started to cry too because I knew, even though I was only nine years old, that what was happening was bad, really, really bad.  Bad in a way that I knew was different from anything else I had ever known.  Eventually, my father turned around, wiped his face with his hands and stared at the television as the awful news continued to be announced over the airwaves.

President John F. Kennedy & First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy ride
in the Dallas motorcade moments before shots were fired.
Photo Courtesy of Reuters/STR
I don't think anyone turned the television off for days.  Our whole lives revolved around what was being broadcast and no one moved from where there was a television from the moment the news broke of the assassination to the burial at Arlington National Cemetery and even for days after.

The loss was, and still is, profound.  People were in shock and deeply grieving for the young and charismatic president and felt the immediate need to reach out to offer support to First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and her two children, Caroline and John.  This was a president who spent a lot of time on television and Americans felt that they were a part of the Kennedy family's life.  At least our family did.

There were no computers in those days so people sat down and expressed their feelings of grief and sympathy the old fashioned way:  they wrote heartfelt handwritten letters. 

The White House said in the weeks following President John F. Kennedy's death that it received more than 800,000 condolence letters, 45,000  of which were received on the Monday following the assassination.

People seemed to instinctively know that one of the most important things you can do for a bereaved person is to acknowledge their loss.  Don't ever be afraid to acknowledge another person's loss.  When in doubt of what to do, it's best to push aside your own anxieties and please keep it simple.

In this tragic instance, it was a loss for the whole nation, as our President was killed right before our eyes.  And while Kennedy was our President, he was also a husband and father and uncle and brother and it is those other human roles that Kennedy filled that also were acknowledged in the days following his death.

And so we take a moment today to remember.

In the words of Monica Lehner-Kahn, "Condolence is the art of giving courage."

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