The anniversary of the murder of Jack Kennedy usually sets me thinking about that long-ago day. But this year I was yanked back to it in particularly brutal fashion. Yesterday, I had a meeting at a law office in the 3300 block of Elm Street in Dallas, in the now hip, formerly industrial neighborhood of Deep Ellum. At the end of the meeting, two of the participants, both baby boomers, walked me to my car. "What's the best way," I asked, "to get onto Interstate 35?"
"Oh," one of them replied, "just follow Elm Street all the way through downtown, like you were in the Kennedy motorcade."
November 22, 1963, was a bright, beautiful fall day in suburban Philadelphia, where I was an eighth-grader. Shortly after we began our Latin class, the principal came on the PA system to announce that our president hat been shot in Texas--a few minutes later he came on to say that President Kennedy was dead. The teacher tried to continue with the lesson, but without much luck. I sat in my seat sobbing. The following Wednesday my family stood in a long line at Arlington National Cemetery, waiting for hours for the privilege of filing past his fresh grave.
I loved John Kennedy in a way that I have never loved any public figure since. He was for me, and millions of my generation, much more that a politician. He was young and beautiful and full of possibility. He was the promise of what we could grow up to be in a post-war America that was the greatest country that had ever been. The announcement over the junior high school public address system yanked the veil of innocence from my eyes; it never returned. For me, part of the attraction of the Obama campaign was the suggestion, the hint, that, if we could manage to elect this man, perhaps we could return to the world as it was on November 21, 1963, before we saw what was behind the facade.