Friday, October 9, 2009

Reflections on the Sixties

One reason a show like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous with Robin Leach was popular was undoubtedly because the audiences were neither rich nor famous themselves. Leach, the host, also had an interesting accent, which did not hurt the ratings either. In other words, people like watching, or reading about, experiences different from one's own.

This might be why war books like my father-in-law's memoirs And There Shall Be Wars have such appeal. Even within the context of the war two veterans will have differing experiences, and perspectives.

So it is that the Sixties was an experience which we all experienced, yet all experienced differently. As veterans of the Sixties, we had some shared experiences, but being in such a range of spaces and places, there is much which may be uniquely our own and occasionally, as those are shared, we gain additional illumination as regards our own experience. These diverse shared experiences not only help us connect to others, but also assist in our own self-understanding.

Christella, who has recently made contributions to this blog, started blogging this summer to share memories from her seven decades of life experience. Her writing is rich with life and you might wish to bookmark it for future returns. This week she has been sharing some of her memories of the Sixties at her own site which she has called Meandering Moody Memories. It's worth a visit if you have some time and is what prompted me to grab this off my original website to post here today.

In 1993 I wrote an essay called "Reflections on the Sixties" for a book that someone was trying to assemble for publication. AOL was just emerging and everyone there was thrilled by the power of connecting with so many others. I remember one AOL virtual community that had a former member of the Sixties band Strawberry Alarm Clock in it.

Several years passed and I was contacted again by this fellow who had me sign something that gave him permission to publish what I'd written, but I never learned what became of the project or whether it ultimately found a publisher.

Reflection on the Sixties

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.

"At other times it feels like being mildly concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me."

These are the words with which C.S. Lewis opens
A Grief Observed, his personal reflections on the loss of his wife Joy Davidson. Can it be that our nation itself received this same concussive blow on the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963?

I find it interesting that C. S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley and John F. Kennedy all died on the same day in 1963. The deaths of Lewis and Huxley, whose personal lives were more remote from most of us, were eclipsed by the dramatic assassination of our president... and the subsequent events surrounding his passing.

There have been few more powerful events in our personal histories. Television brought this president into our homes like none before him. His PR-created persona made him out to be more than a man. He was a mythological god. He rode a white horse. He was a knight in shining armor. With the vitality of Youth, he provided a euphoric hope that seemed necessary after two world wars, a major depression and the brooding tensions of the Cold War.

I was in sixth grade that day, Stafford School, Maple Heights, Ohio. There was an announcement over the loudspeaker that we were all to go to the auditorium for an assembly. This was the same room where we assembled to see men from NASA demonstrate how a rocket would within the next ten years carry men to the moon.

As we shuffled along toward the nearly filled assembly room, I was distracted by a janitor who was stepping in from outside. I remember the grey November sky. And the janitor's tears, the janitor standing there, cap in hand, tears streaming down his wrinkled cheeks, looking back toward the flag he had just lowered to half mast.

I don't remember the assembly, or much of anything else. Only the image of that janitor weeping.

Few people knew it then, but that day was a portent of difficult times ahead for America. Medger Evers, Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, Kent State, My Lai -- the decade, stained with blood, left a generation of parents concussed and children confused.

Wrote Lewis in
A Grief Observed, "I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in."

And when Nielsson sang: "Everybody's talkin' at me, I can't hear a word they're saying"... did we not find a resonance in our hearts because we, too, were grieving? What was it we had lost? What is it we were looking for? What was Joe Buck looking for? What did Joe Buck find?

I believe it was Gurdjieff who compared life experiences to the food we take into our stomachs. Eventually the food is digested, but it takes time, and some foods longer than others. Likewise, our experiences take time to digest before they are assimilated to nourish or poison us.

Even though more than 25 years have passed, sometimes we still don't know what to say about what we saw and heard and felt. We are still processing our experiences. While some of the experiences were uniquely ours, many were shared. For this reason it is my conviction that when we have gained a measure of understanding, we have a responsibility to share the light we have received. In this way, our pain becomes redemptive, a healing influence in an otherwise broken world.


copyright 1993 ed newman

1 comment:

Christella said...

You really captured the mood and shared grief of Kennedy's death. The tears of the janitor reminds me of the tears one man shed when FDR died.

As you wrote, many of us are still processing the deaths of the 60s.

What a fiery decade. Thanks for posting. I'm glad my post inspired you to repost because, after all, some of us didn't read this in 1993.