On November 22nd 60 years ago, everything changed.
It was the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated…and it rocked the world.
While I was alive at the time (I was 5 years old) I didn’t really comprehend it…all I knew was that every adult was glued to the TV for days…and a lot of people were crying…everywhere.
It began with a fatal motorcade in Dallas; then Walter Cronkite letting the nation know the President was dead; then to the immediate swearing in of the new President (Lyndon Johnson) on an airplane; then the funeral, which was an international spectacle; not to mention the side plot when the assassinator, Lee Harvey Oswald, was assassinated himself.
Quite a week.
The raw emotion that the country was feeling had almost nothing to do with politics or being a Democrat or a Republican…it was an American (and global) tragedy.
I’ve heard the events of that week described, in books and by historians, as the beginning of the era when America lost its innocence.
It’s hard to argue with that given the events that followed during the rest of the 1960’s…and into the present day.
I imagine the feelings around the Kennedy assassination for adults back then might be akin to how empty I (and many others) felt after 9/11, especially walking around New York City in the days and weeks after (which I did) …there was a cloud over the city that seemed permanent…and sadness (and anger) everywhere.
It’s a deep emotional response, one of profound empathy, that takes over your body and your mind.
I’m sure you’ve felt it during your lifetime as well.
To show how much I didn’t understand about the events of November 1963:
During the Kennedy funeral, I set up my own procession matching the one on TV, with my collection of Matchbox cars (remember those?), asking my parents, “will there be a Jewish flag draped over the box at Lee Harvey Oswald’s funeral?”
The only two flags I knew at the time were the U.S. and Israeli…and the only two public deaths I knew at the time were Kennedy and Oswald…yes, I had a limited view of the world…but I repeat, I was 5.
What moved me was that I had seen coffins before but none with a U.S. flag draped over it.
That it is one of those images that remains in my brain six decades later, even after seeing it hundreds of times in my lifetime.
The other thing that is embedded in my brain is the picture of Lyndon Johnson being sworn in under the “supervision” of Jackie Kennedy, while she is still wearing the same dress she wore during the motorcade when her husband was shot…with this blood visible on the dress.
The “now” of it all was front and center.
I was feeling something profound and painful without completely understanding it.
The following week in 1963 was Thanksgiving…and I remember all the Thanksgivings of my childhood (and every year of my life) …but there was something different about that one.
It was harder to be thankful for anything during Thanksgiving of 1963…which is why, in retrospect, Thanksgiving became my favorite holiday of the year (with Valentine’s Day a close second) …where gratefulness and love rule the day, and it’s why no matter what is going on in my life, or in the world, the Thanksgiving table became a sacred place to create joy.
More on that in the P.S… and more about “V-Day” in February. 🙂
I think the dialogue below from two respected adults at the time captured the mood after the Kennedy assassination:
Journalist Mary McGrory said, “We’ll never laugh again.”
Daniel Patrick Moynihan — who worked for Kennedy — replied, “Mary, we will laugh again. But we will never be young again.”
Ain’t that the truth.
So, as we celebrate Thanksgiving in the U.S. in 2023—and the beginning of the holiday season throughout the world (even if Thanksgiving is not an international holiday)—I encourage you to take some time to reflect on a moment in your life when you thought you would never laugh again.
It could be something very personal or an event that penetrated your emotional core.
Empathetic responses can be as powerful as responses to events that affect us directly.
Another lesson I learned when I was 5.
It may not take much to have that feeling that you will never laugh again.
However, somehow we always seem to get back on the horse, learn to live (and laugh) once more…but unfortunately, the grief is embedded in our mind forever.
The good news about the cycle of grieving…laughing…grieving…laughing… is that “we will never be young again.”
With age comes wisdom…which is a core theme I’ve written about in these posts for the last decade …and I will continue to hang my hat on that one.
You know…”Life is Long” (because it’s the only one we’ve got).
Why waste time talking about how short it is?
Just soak it in every day.
And I say this not to justify my own existence since more and more, I am the oldest person in any room I enter; but rather, to emphasize that the more we see and experience, the more we can endure.
It’s a simple formula and I believe it is more than a simple coping mechanism. You are welcome to disagree.
Back to Thanksgiving 2023.
There are things going on today causing millions of people to believe that they will never laugh again.
But flipping it to we will laugh again…in time…and with age…and with wisdom…is one formula for healing.
Not easy depending on the trauma you might be enduring…and I am not trying to be like the security officer (one degree of Kevin Bacon) at the end of Animal House repeating “Remain calm, all is well!” in the middle of a riot.
I’ll just suggest:
Use Thanksgiving as a possible starting point to laugh again (if you’re ready).
I don’t know what compelled me to write this “Debbie Downer” post today…reading about the 60th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination triggered something.
I could have just repeated one of my “greatest Thanksgiving hits”…one of my first “Gratefulness is not a Thanksgiving resolution”…or last year’s, “I want it to matter that we met”…or one of the ones in-between…all with similar themes:
- The difference between a “resolution” and a “declaration”
- Why “envy kills” while “gratefulness thrills”
- How to get the younger folks at the table to pay attention to “now” rather than look at their phones during the Thanksgiving meal 🙂
- Remembering (celebrating) those that we lose from the Thanksgiving table each year…from the recipes they contributed to the laughs they created…and to know they are still with us
- Having a strict “no politics” rule…which now needs to be enforced with martial law 🙁
- Being especially grateful post-pandemic when we can gather once again “live” …realizing how much we missed…and to make up for lost time
- The joys of gluten and sugar
- The difference between “happiness” and “joy” (and I AM repeating that one in the P.S. because it’s foundational).
If you want to read the details about anything from the bullet points above, go to my blog archive and put “Thanksgiving” in the search bar…or click on the two posts above…but you don’t need to read more than one (two max) because they are all intentionally redundant.
Reruns with a purpose. 🙂
And maybe today’s post is not as much of a downer after all.
While it emphasizes “loss” and “grief,” it also encourages laughter and long life.
Loss and grief will happen to all of us whether we like it or not.
But to laugh every day through our long lives is anything but a downer.
P.S. And now to the difference between happiness and joy…
I want to share this video once again from actor Mathew McConaughey (which I shared with you last year on Thanksgiving) where he makes a distinction between “happiness” and “joy.”
It’s only 9 minutes and I guarantee you will find it very enlightening, even if you watched it last year.
It is also another spin (of sorts) on envy vs. gratefulness…and he expresses his thesis much better than I expressed mine.
Hey…give me a break…he’s a professional actor.
And I am not envious of that. 🙂
Click here and enjoy.