Friday, November 22, 2013

Half a Century On

November 22, 1963
I was 28 months old (do the math) when JFK was assassinated in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963. I have no memory of where I was (Trenton, NJ) or what I was doing (probably dancing in my playpen to a Cheer detergent commercial, according to what my mother has told me). When I started elementary school, Lyndon Johnson was serving his second term as POTUS, soon to be followed by Richard Nixon. I wasn't really all that into politics back then. I was more interested in monster movies, playground games and any number of other things important to any kid under the age of 10. I have a vague recollection of a playground conversation with a classmate about who I would vote for if I was old enough to vote, but I don't really remember who either of us chose. 

Of course, Kennedy's murder was a major turning point in mid-century American history. The American 'Camelot' was gone and a decade or more of political and social turmoil was about to begin. The post-Kennedy era was time of massive change in the States. People were turning on ad tripping out; hippies and yippies were everywhere; women were suddenly burning their bras and men were landing on the moon. Woodstock shocked the country and the Chicago 7 outraged conservatives; Hair dared to expose naked people on a Broadway stage and the Feminist movement was taking hold. In New York, gay people had finally had enough and fought back against persecution and Martin Luther King, Jr. was fighting peacefully for justice and tolerance. 

Meanwhile, my suburban parents were far more concerned with making their $56.00 per month mortgage payment on the house that cost them $10,250 and which I have just had appraised at $175K. My mother, far more intent on raising her family than paying attention to the political/social climate, would much later talk about how she missed 'all the fuss' because she was too busy caring my sister and myself. 

And while I certainly don't begrudge Mom's insular life at the time (she undoubtedly lived the life she wanted to live), I can't help but think about all the changes she (and I) saw in the past half century.

To be honest, I feel sort of bad for those born in the 70's, 80's, 90's and Aughts. They have been totally insulated from the kind of sociopolitical turmoil with which I grew up. Stonewall is a buzzword to them. Rosa Parks and MLK are simply historical notes from an era they will never fully understand and appreciate the importance of the two-term election of an LGBT-friendly African-American POTUS. Yes, they will have their own moments of historical precedence. One day they will look back and laugh at those who opposed Marriage Equality; the idea that corporations can be people; the lack of health-care for the poor and the enslavement of minimum-wage workers (I'm talking about you, Walmart). But they won't have the sense of wonder and amazement of technological advancements that my mother and her generation experienced in the past 50 years. And that's a shame. Personally, I'm looking forward to what the next 50 years will bring. I can only imagine that advancements in health care will most likely insure that I and my contemporaries will be around to see them. 

All Americans should reflect on that terrible day when JFK was shot in the head by a man whose motives will probably never be understood. But we should all be focusing on the future and ways to make better for those yet to come. Uncle P will probably never have children to carry on my bloodline, but that doesn't mean I don't care about those who will be entrusted with the planet after I'm gone. 

Remember the past, but look forward to the future. Honor those who have gone before and live for those who mean the most in the present while leaving behind a world those who have yet to come can be proud to call home.

The past may well be prologue though I, for one, hope that future generations will actually use those lessons to make the world a better place. 

More, anon.

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