Thursday, February 12, 2015

Innocence Lost: A 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." 
~ C. S. Lewis

These are the opening words of A Grief Observed, C. S. Lewis' 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, race riots in every major city, 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 50 years have passed, we who were there still sometimes 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.

* * * *
The above blog post originally appeared here in 2008. It comes to mind again upon having just finished Charles Murray's Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010. The title is misleading. The book is really about the decline that has taken place in all of America in the half century from 1960 on. He presents stats to show that the decline isn't just because what's happened with minorities has dragged all the stats down.

Though the dates run from 1960-2010, it was the assassination of JFK that really placed a marker in the ground. Many of the outcomes that followed were set in motion by that traumatic event. Check out the review of Murray's book here by Graham H. Seibert.

"Darkness at the break of noon... eclipses both the sun and moon.... Meantime, life goes on all around you."

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