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
assasination of our president... and the subsequent events surrounding his
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
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