When I was a child, JFK was assassinated and it seemed like the whole world stopped for a weekend. For years afterwards, time could be marked by how many years after the incident it was. Five years later seemed surreal, as did ten. And every anniversary after that seemed to center upon the realization that “I can’t believe it’s been so many years“.
I can still see myself at that school desk, two rows in, five rows down. I remember the teacher, Mr. Rotella, was wearing a grey suit. I even remember the student who burst into the classroom blurting out “President Kennedy’s dead!”. Poor Peter Sturm’s facial expression and tone of voice was unfortunately misinterpreted as an expression of excitement sans gravitas, and Mr. Rotella lit into him for treating the moment as anything but devastating emotional trauma. I would bet money that Peter’s shirt was blue.
I tell that story because there are moments in life where your soul takes a snapshot and it gets filed into that area of your brain that is the last to go. People of that generation can all likely remember where they were that day. And I will never forget where I was thirty years ago when John Lennon was killed.
I’ve never seen the life get sucked out of a room that fast; the sound of a bar full of friends enjoying a great band was brought to a screeching halt when the word filtered in. My roommate Dave (long the most credible DJ in the city) had the thankless task of making the announcement to a stunned crowd, some of whom had heard the rumor and others who were blindsided by the words. In a blur of cries and hugs and blank expressions it seemed that everyone knew that the best thing to do was to go home. Go seek out friends and talk it out and somehow try to get our heads around what had just happened. There was no Internet nor cell phones, we were reliant upon whatever radio and TV would tell us and whatever we could gather from others. Every broadcaster, every person we passed on the street, everyone was dumbstruck.
The house Dave and I shared was well-known for burning the midnight oil, and it wasn’t long before the phone started to ring; people who called said they dialed us because they knew we would be awake and receptive. Then more calls…then visitors as the door opened again, and again. I can’t remember a word I said that night, nor anything anyone else said either. I just remember the odd juxtaposition of feeling scraped out and hollow by the incident yet safe and comfortable because I wasn’t alone. I was sharing the experience with others…somehow we diffused each other’s pain. I know that’s what the people at the vigil that night and the days afterwards felt, too. Community of spirit, the essence of human communication, a bonding with all senses engaged.
I am so glad there was no such thing as Twitter in 1980.
I know John Lennon was not a hero in the strict sense of the word, and there certainly have been many people from all walks of life whose acts and deeds advanced human civilization more profoundly than any Beatle ever could. I didn’t know John personally and have no idea what he was like as a father or a husband or a friend.
But Lennon was a man of peace, and in the intolerant times people my age grew up in, his words and music spoke to us and for us. To suffer a violent death is the worst kind of irony, but that shocking deed punctuated and drew perpetual attention to a mission that lives on through his legacy.
I can’t believe it’s been thirty years.