On November 22, 1963, I was eleven years old. In sixth grade at Holy Family School. The election three years prior had been the first I had ever been old enough to take an interest in. The fact that one of the candidates was Roman Catholic probably had a lot to do with that as I attended a Catholic School. We rejoiced when JFK won the election. We loved him. We loved his beautiful wife and his beautiful young family.
On that afternoon (in the eastern time zone), an announcement came over the PA system. "The president has been shot, we will all now go in double file to the church to pray." We did. We all somberly filed out of the school and into the church. We prayed with all the earnestness of young children who want a different outcome than that which they know is coming. A while later, the priest came to the pulpit and told us the president had died. We all cried. I remember being terribly frightened. We didn't know who killed him at that point. It was terrifying to a young child to wonder what was going on. And the grief of not only losing someone, but losing him in such a brutal way. Back then we thought things like this didn't happen here - they happened elsewhere.
My family wasn't much for television. Ours wasn't in the living room. It was downstairs in a makeshift TV room. Definitely not a room you would want to spend a whole lot of time in. We didn't. But that weekend, we turned on the television set and sat transfixed watching this terrible theater unfold.
My mother kept crying "This is barbaric!" watching other people's grief. Close ups of the young widow's face beneath the veil. But we all still sat and watched.
On Sunday morning, leaving mass, we heard on the radio the killer had been killed himself.
Prior to that day, 47 years ago, I really thought that we lived in a charmed place where not many bad things happened. That notion was decimated in the days and years to follow this assassination.
Oh, I know most of you weren't born yet on that day. I know this news is so old that it isn't even commented on anymore. But it is forever burned into my memory. Just as 9/11 is seared into yours.