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November 22, 1963: My World Slid Off Its Axis. Did Yours?

Three score years ago less six, my seventeen-year-old’s world slid off its axis one November afternoon in French class. Part way through a group recitation of je suis, tu es, il est, elle est, the intercom crackled to life and the voice of Mr. Ferguson–the principal we students called Chrome Dome!–came into our class and our lives. President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas, Texas. It happened thousands of miles from where we sat in Woodstock, Ontario but I still remember the gasps, the sniffles, the outright bawling and one girlfriend dashing from the room, her blond hair flying across her red face and wet eyes as she grabbed the door handle, yanked it open, and fled.

As though that would help.

There was no more French that day. The final bell rang and students rushed to lockers, to coats, to buses, and home. Mom had the TV on. In a silence not normally found in my large family we sat side by side on the gold leather couch, for once not shoving our siblings for more room, as Jackie Kennedy stood on the plane beside Lyndon Johnson while the hastily located judge administered the oath of office making him officially the new president. We watched Jack Ruby shoot Lee Harvey Oswald dead right at the police station and we saw over and over the scene surrounding the Texas Book Depository from whence the assassination shot reportedly came. The video of Mrs. Kennedy crawling over the trunk of the car, the secret service men striving to protect the bloodied president, the sirens wailing as the motorcade roared off to the hospital, and the shock and fear of every bystander, all of these scenes are as vivid today as I write this as they were on our black and white TV that horrific day.

Here is a video encapsulating many of those events shared by the world which, still today, makes me cry. Wait especially for the words at the very end. They are words we who lived through that unheard of event have echoed ourselves all these fifty-four years since. Here is the Smithsonian Channel’s excellent video.

President Kennedy’s death was the beginning of a changed world. Five years later Robert Kennedy was assassinated and Martin Luther King Jr., too. It seemed the good guys were losing whole acres of ground to the bad guys. That was the world in which I came of age.

Today I write of a history long before those events in the sixties and I’m sure people living then many times felt just as shocked and bereaved as I did in the nineteen sixties. It does seem to me now, though, that the bad things are more expected and have gotten worse. As we mark the fifty-fourth anniversary of that day in 1963, let us still strive to look for, to nourish, and to give birth ourselves to the good that I know is out there.

What is your story of that day when Camelot came crashing down?




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