Where were you fifty-seven years ago today? Perhaps, as the saying goes, you were but a gleam in your parent’s eyes. Haha, right? You might have to count backwards to find what year was 5.7 decades ago, then stick today’s date of November 22nd onto it. Then you may readily recall exactly where you were and precisely what you were doing around 12:30pm central standard time. That’s when news bulletins flashed reports of president John Kennedy being shot in Dallas.
In the ensuing half-hour after the initial discombobulating thought of Kennedy being shot, then rushed to Parkland Hospital, and by 1pm being pronounced dead, people young and old entered into a terrible twilight zone-ish mental state. Can this be real? What happened? How? Who? Why? It was a Friday, and like today Thanksgiving and all its wholesome traditions awaited families across the country. Except, Thanksgiving was now an abstraction as time seemed to stand still after it was confirmed that JFK was dead. That entire weekend became a profound funeral dirge, as shock and disbelief lingered, mingling with a deeply felt grief. To add to the stunning and surreal process of scrambling to swear into the presidency Lyndon Johnson, while the who, what, where and why questions were being sorted out, the prime suspect, Lee Oswald, was shot dead on live television on Sunday, the 24th, in the basement of the Dallas city jail moments after he and his police escorts exited an elevator.
On LIVE television! Interesting, right? The wrong kind of precursor to reality TV.
Looking back, the decade of the 1960s was seemingly rife with turbulence. Before JFK was killed, he went eyeball to eyeball with Nikita Khrushchev and the Soviet Union during the Cuban missile crisis. Historians now feel that nuclear war was a distinct possibility. Fortunately, the planet wasn’t decimated by atomic missiles flying east and west, This was 1962. Nuclear annihilation remains–and always will remain–a threat to life on Earth.
In 1965, Malcolm X was assassinated. In 1968, both Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. Swirling around these cataclysmic events was the Vietnam War, the women’s movement and the ever present racial unrest that included ML King’s non-violent resistance, along with the more militant Malcom X, and the fledgling Black Panther Party.
The decade did include something monumentally admirable too: the 1969 moon landing. That was a globally celebrated event. Not too often we humans cheer one another along.
There’s a saying, May you live in interesting times. It is arguably either an old English expression or it originated as an traditional Chinese curse. Either way, those of us who were around for the 1960s have a lot of memories linked to all the calamity and chaos that defined that decade.
Now we have not a decade, but a single year that, while not infested with assassinations or a massively unpopular war, still has the threat of nuclear devastation–as in the “nuclear clock” is set at 40 seconds until midnight (doomsday, central, pacific, mountain or whatever time zone). We have a recently defeated massively divisive president who specialized in sowing chaos and consternation who has refused to accept his defeat. Oh. and and he has the nuclear launch codes. There still is significant racial tension. We have an irrefutable climate crisis on our hands (festering for decades and decades and now possibly too unstable to ever again stabilize). Oh, and there’s the pandemic. All three of the above noted “we have..” components are capable of decimating human and other life forms.
So, if November 22nd 1963 is but a history lesson for many not yet on the scene, those more recent arrivals plus those of us from the JFK era and onward have 2020. We all are living in “interesting” times. How about the 70s and disco? The 80s had hair bands, shoulder pads and Reagan. The 90s had grunge rock and the Clintons. The 2000s had an illegitimate president who started an illegitimate war, followed by an African American president and a global economic meltdown. Then came the 2010s and especially November of 2016. That’s when two unbelievable events occurred. First, on November 2nd of that year the Chicago Cubs won a World Series after 108 years of failure. Then came November 8th and a shocker of an election, and until November 3rd of THIS wretched year of 2020, a most awful, terrible, no good, lousy, rotten four years now haven been given an official expiration date of January 20, 2021.
Well, as James Joyce said, History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. One might find that quote hyperbola. Given the quote comes from Joyce’s Ulysses, published in 1922, just after WWI, and now having WWII and the 1960s, plus what has transpired since the early 2000s and up to the moment, I’d say Joyce is not guilty of hyperbole. He simply looked around back then and well, had to say what he said.
Maybe 2021 will usher in a more positive zeitgeist. It certainly has to be better than 2020. I started this blog invoking the unthinkable assassination of a young and popular president fifty-seven years in the rearview mirror. I was old enough then to still recall how life can be harsh even in a vicarious way. My eyes have been wide open for all these decades hence. Adapt or perish, right? We are all slogging through 2020. Masked and distanced and packing disinfectant. At least most people are doing that. By this time next year, we’ll see what the shake-out of the pandemic, political calamity and climate change will have produced. I do hope we can take a long, long break from this reality, and that the future will be so very. very, not interesting.