As the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination approached, one youngish CNN anchor enthused that back then, the president was viewed as "the father of our country. Everyone loved him!"
Obviously, she hadn't been born when the event occurred. But many of you reading these words remember--and have often relived--that tumultuous day in our nation's history.
On November 22, 1963, I was a teenager, too young to have voted for John F. Kennedy but old enough to be aware that he was not universally beloved. I was walking back from class at the University of Georgia when a friend told me the president had been shot. Returning to my dorm room, I switched on the radio and lay crosswise of the bed. The reports were confused, the newscaster halting in his delivery as he listened to bits of information coming in.
After a pause he said, "The president is dead."
Three days later, co-eds packed the small TV room in Rutherford Hall to watch Kennedy's funeral. When three year-old John Jr. saluted his father's casket, the most stoic among us trembled.
A year later, following a difficult week of exams, I visited the book section of a department store in downtown Athens. There, prominently displayed, stood a large book of color photos of the assassination. As I leafed through the pages, the tears in my eyes surprised me. Would the shock and sorrow ever fade? The answer came in the run-up to this anniversary.
As films showed the convertible heading into Dealey Plaza, I found myself whispering, "Oh no, oh no." The president slumping, Jackie crawling onto the car trunk, the Secret Service agent leaping to take her hand -- the images stomach-punched me all over again. The reaction is hard-edged, exclusive to those of us who lived through the tragedy.
In all the films of that awful day, I kept searching for one particular moment. When the plane carrying Kennedy's body landed in D.C., a Navy ambulance waited on the tarmac. After the president's body had been placed in the vehicle, Jackie approached. Stunned, blank-eyed, still wearing her bloodstained suit, she reached for the ambulance door handle herself, and pulled.
he news anchor covering the arrival noted the moment. No Secret Service agent, no military guard, no aide, had done it for her.
In the hushed days that followed, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy took hold of the calamity and did for our nation what only she, herself, could do. She steadied our reeling spirits, her dignity and composure signifying that we would survive this frightening assault upon our country.
We would need that reminder as the events of the 60s unfolded. Riots, bombings, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Vietnam. It seemed the country would disintegrate, that the violence would never end.
But the country held, the horrors abated, and we came through it.
Fears within, troubles without, whatever unsettles our nation now, we can turn to our history for instruction.
We need only to look upon the hand of a young widow, reaching for a car door.
Carol Megathlin, formerly of Americus, is a Georgia writer who now lives in Savannah.