Sunday, November 27, 2005

Memory & Mystery

I wasn't watching but the anniversary of JFK's assassination came along without much ado. There was one quick reference on a movie last night (The Rock) as the lead character drives into the sunset unwinding secret film from a canister, asking his wife, "Honey do you want to know who really killed JFK?" But as I said. I wasn't watching. So maybe there was the obligatory look at the classic Zapruder film or the reconstruction of old, probably doctored theories and documents. Maybe even another movie to trivialize his death and all its repercussions.
You'd have to be my age or older to care about JFK. Or be a neoconstructionist historian. I became engrossed in the conspiracy possibilities. There were so many: it was the Cubans; it was the Hawks; it was the Mafia. Those were a few potentials. But what stays alive in a visceral sense is the psychic weight of his death. I was attending an Irish Catholic grade school. The nun who called me "Therese" in that stringent Celtic voice, whose red face and rail thin body moved at exactly the same pace, hidden under shiny black habit, that nun actually wringed her hands. I was a kid. We were released from class early. Cars streaming into the asphalt parking lot at the wrong time. The sunshine that swept across the blackness and my mother in her perfectly ironed matching blouse and skirt. Later I saw her eyes clinging to the portable TV, heard her anguish and the cry when Oswald was shot. This was an emotional rupture of the same magnitude as her father's death. I knew that as a kid. Then that muffled walk to Arlington, the black veils, silence, weary Walter Cronkite. The whodunit was an aftermath of several years. A cathartic journey. But none of us out here knows who. Perhaps for those of us who care, the enigma should be preserved, along with the whole Camelot mystique. Not because secrecy needs preservation and not because the Presidency needs mythic drama. But because not-knowing, mystery in itself has the kind of value that will not be replaced with The Truth. What did Lorca say about our need for "mystery"?

So it's 42 years after, what are your memories of JFK's assasination? Where were you the day of? when Ruby shot Oswald? Was it a conspiracy? How has it affected your life? Has it?


Lyle Daggett said...

I was nine years old, it was morning in my fourth grade class (Lyndale school in Minneapolis), a student came into the room with a message from the school office and handed it to the teacher. The teacher, Mrs. Holmes (an "old school" teacher from a school so old they hadn't yet invented the wheel) told us briefly what had happened, and she had someone turn on the radio in the corner of the room. (The radio had never been turned on all year.)

The news report talked about nothing else. We listened to the news for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, and then the news announcer interrupted himself: "And this just in, from Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas -- President Kennedy is dead." The announcer said the last four words with a weight and deliberation, like a heavy drum beat coming down four times. Everyone in the classroom gasped in shock.

I was nine years old and didn't yet have opinions of my own, for the most part. I was shocked, stunned, because it was the president of our country. It was uncritical, unreasoned, shock. (I was about 13 or 14 before I started having anything like independent opinions or ideas.)

As to the question of a conspiracy or not--

I don't know, of course, but I find myself unconvinced by any of the mountains of official versions that continue to insist that Oswald did it alone. If I had to say, I would say I believe other people were involved.

Sometime in the early '90's some people here in Minneapolis produced an investigative video, with minimal budget, considering a number of questions about the Kennedy assassination. The man narrating the video began by saying that in his opinion, it was less important at this point to know who killed Kennedy than to understand why he was killed.

In the many years since, learning more about Kennedy, about politics, about the economy and the world and class struggle and the whole thing, I no longer feel Kennedy's assassination as a national tragedy. Rather I see it as one episode among many. Little by little my political innocence has whittled away, which (all things considered) is probably for the best.

I agree with the man in the investigative video -- understanding the reasons why Kennedy was killed is more important, by now, than knowing positively who killed him. Knowing who had the motives (whether CIA, or the Mafia, or anti-Castro organizations, or whoever else, or all of the above), and what they stood to gain, is more useful than knowing who pulled the trigger.

A number of years ago I listened to Jane Hill talk at a local bookstore. She had been there, in person, she saw Kennedy shot, one of the surviving witnesses. (In one of the pieces of film footage from that day she's standing wearing a red raincoat.) I heard her describe what she saw. She described seeing a flash and a puff of smoke, as she heard a gunshot, over to her left (in the direction of the infamous "grassy knoll"), and at the same moment -- she said -- she saw, over to her right, Kennedy's head virtually explode in blood, "a halo of red, an aura of red" as she put it.

I wasn't there in Dallas that day, and it was a long time ago, and much history has come and gone since then. And who knows if we'll ever know what really happened? But that evening, listening to Jane Hill describe what she saw that day in Dallas, I had the clear sensation that I was probably as close to what really happened that day as I'm ever likely to get.

Anonymous said...

Lyle -
I agree that the why is most important. Like you, I long ago got jaded with American politics, seeing it as a basic farce, a placebo with no ultimate power.

I've my own ideas about power and conspiracy, not only here in the US but across the globe.Probably the excruciating part of all of this from Kennedy forward, is the sense of individual impotence. But then, after awhile, I replaced that loss with the understanding that all I can do is exert individual power, control, responsibility over my own living. Maybe too philosophical for the first cup of coffee in the morning.

But this approximates my perspective on so much: on things that seem paramount (politics, faith, etcetera) but which are really no more than the veil of illusion. How can I invest my emotional and intellectual and physical and psychic energy into entities which have no real existence, which are the maya that presumably keeps the world in some order and meaning? I can't. Of course, this is intellectualization. When 2008 comes round, my focus will shift.

Your Jane Hill experience has the most meaning because it is immediate and experential. Or that's how it seems to me.That's kind of an eastern way of regarding this catastrophic event - by minimalizing it to the moment, to a moment shared by one person. It's stripped of aqll the headbanging theory and accusation and mental crap that came immediately after.

When I look at the assasination from the long view, it serves the purpose of self reflection: - what we are doing this moment: examining ourselves in the moment, 42 years later. So maybe the biggest significance of Nov. 22, 1963 is this moment and how we have changed because of it.


nolapoet said...

Amazing. My dad who covered Oswald in New Orleans before the assassination, as well as reported it there and covered the investigation from Baton Rouge, remembers a quite different reaction.

In New Oleans, he says, word of Kennedy's assassination was met by cheers in school classrooms--and I think that included Cathlic schools. The issue may have had more to do with race relations and integration efforts than with Catholicism. I'll ask him to clarify. I was in utero when Kennedy was shot, yet feel strongly the impact of that event.

New Orleans, my poor beloved shanghaied hometown, seems to be a crossroads for a lot of shadow government dealings, not only surrounding Kennedy's assassination but also Reagan's Contra operations.


Ann said...

Robin, I'd like to know more about your father's coverage of Oswald prior to the assasination.