This was the day, back in 1963, when there was a great shift in the mood of our country as the USA shared the grief and tragedy of the death of a president. I half-facetiously sometimes say I don’t trust anyone who can’t tell me where they were on this day in 1963.
In the small elementary school I attended in Alabama, the children often reflected what was heard at home. I often heard classmates scorn President Kennedy (much as we hear some Tea Partyers scorn President Obama today). Also at the time, school milk cartons carried the faces of American presidents, with a short bio. Some of the kids cut them out and collected them. Occasionally, someone would find a milk carton with JFK’s picture on it and ceremoniously stomp it into the ground. This was reflective of the animosity felt in the South toward Kennedy. On that fateful day, shortly after the lunch period at school while we were in recess, someone came with the news that the President had been shot. The initial reaction of some was to think it was a joke. I saw kids dancing and celebrating, thinking they were acting out that same old ceremony of stomping a milk carton into the ground. Then when we realized that it was no joke – this was actual fact, a somber and fearful mood settled over our third grade class.
We came late in learning of the potential we held in our nation, embodied by the man who called upon us to “bear any burden and pay any price;” who set our sights on the moon (literally), and who laid the groundwork for civil rights and equality. This day, even now, stands as a cautionary tale. That we can aspire to the highest good, then disregard the treasure in our midst. We can hope for a better world and then turn around to be mired in petty squabbles, unable to move forward toward the common good.