Seared in Memory

I was 12 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated.  It was such a shocking event that even 50 years later, many details of that day and the days that followed remain intact in my memory.  Now living part of the time in the Boston area where Kennedy grew up and began his political career, it feels a bit like I am walking through history–the places that I heard about as a child that were only dots on a map are now alive and real.

I was in the seventh grade in a newly constructed middle school in Tawas City, Michigan.  The teacher, Mr. Alexander, taught us both math and history, math in the morning and history in the afternoon.  I recall that the school had decided that year to separate boys and girls into different classes (undoubtedly an experiment in hormone control) , but because I was in the band I was in a mixed class.   I still can see where I was sitting in that classroom, as well as the arrangement of the room, almost as if I were watching an old home movie.   It was a Friday afternoon in the period after lunch hour, and we were taking a test.  In the middle of the test, Mr. Alexander was called out of the room.  When he came back, he told us to finish the test, and then he would have something to tell us.  When everyone was finished, he told us the news that the President had been shot.   A few minutes the principal came on over the loudspeaker and told us that it had now been confirmed that President Kennedy was dead, and dismissed school for the day.

As we waited for the buses to arrive, I don’t remember what we said to each other.  It seemed an impossible thing to understand—the President was dead, shot by an assassin.  The main memory that lingers of how I learned of the assassination  is a sense of annoyance that with such a momentous event, Mr. Alexander made us finish the test we were taking.   On the bus there was none of the usual laughing or rambunctiousness of 12 and 13 year olds—everyone was in shock.

When the bus arrived in East Tawas, I walked the block from the elementary school where the bus stopped, to the family store, where my father and grandfather were waiting.  I always stopped there on my way home, but usually just for a few minutes.  On this day I was there much longer, as we all tried to process the news and watch the small television in the back office as the news station played over and over the footage of the day.  After a time, my grandfather and father began to reminisce about the death of FDR 18 years earlier, and the bombing of Pearl Harbor four years before.   My grandfather told me that as long as I lived, I would never forget where I was on this day.  “It will be seared in your mind,”  he predicted, and indeed it has been.

Over the next two days it seemed like we were mostly glued to the television  as  news of the capture of Lee Harvey Oswald unfolded.  Then, on Sunday morning, we, along with millions of others, watched on national television as Jack Ruby shot Oswald as he was being moved to the county jail.

The following week was Thanksgiving, just as it is this year.  We always got together with an aunt and uncle and cousins on my mother’s side, and it was such a somber occasion that year.  My father, who had not been a Kennedy fan before the 1960 election, had totally turned around by the time of the assassination, due in no small part to Kennedy’s vow to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade.  We were not done with tragedy in the remaining years of the 60s–when Neil Armstrong finally took his “giant leap for mankind” on July 1969, it was a more hopeful end  to a decade that held the triple tragedies of the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, his brother Robert, and Martin Luther King.

The Fall Season of Halfs

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The fall season for me is less about football and more about running, especially half marathons.  It’s become my favorite distance, and I’ve resolved to run one in half the U.S. states over the next 2-3 years, and given my penchant for international living and travel, I may branch out to continents as well (I’m already planning to do the Two Oceans Half in Capetown, South Africa, next April).     Some people do all 50, but my thinking is that this way  I get to pick the states I want to go to as well as the time of year. So far, I’ve rolled through most of the states in New England (still have Rhode Island and Connecticut, though), as well as Michigan, Alabama, Washington, and New York.  Next up is Pennsylvania.  It’s fun seeing different parts of the country, visiting relatives or friends as part of the weekend, and meeting new people before and during the races.  Marty often comes with me and is there at the finish line, which is nice as well.   (Especially the time last year  I became dehydrated and wound up in the ER, but that’s another story).

I’ve  joined a group online and Facebook called Half Fanatics, which is comprised of people arguably a lot crazier than me about the number and frequency of races they run.  I won’t even try to explain the “moon” system, but as you do more races, in more places, more often, you “moon up” around the solar system.  It’s a bit wonky, but what the heck.  I met some nice people at a race a few weeks ago who were sporting their Half Fanatic shirts, and they were very friendly and welcoming, so I decided to join myself.  People encourage each other on line and in person in their respective goals.   Together with the  friendly running group I’m part of in Keene it is a nice community to be part of.

What is interesting to me is my own process in not only becoming interested in this, but deciding to set a goal around it and then plug away at achieving it.  As I have grown older I have found the ability to take pleasure in small things, as well as to create pleasure by challenging myself in areas I might not have considered  before.   I am reminded of an incident many years ago where a friend of mine was consoling another mutual friend who was prone to negativity and depression.   The friend doing the consoling was not himself without problems–from my perspective rather more challenging  ones than the depressed friend– but always seemed to have an upbeat attitude about things.  In the course of the conversation, he mentioned that not all was gloom and doom –that very day our mutual friend might come home and find  that  the new L.L. Bean catalog had arrived in the mail!  His ability– and counsel–to take pleasure in small things was something I never forgot.  Equally important to me is to continuing to challenge myself as I grow older.   Diana Nyad was right–you are never too old to chase your dreams.

So here I am, at 62, running half marathons in half the states.  When I’m finished with this, there will be something else, I’m sure.  The main thing is to keep chasing.