The Dawn of Shadows

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The summer I turned 11, I remember seeing headlines commemorating the 20th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. That event seemed to me, at the time, very ancient and remote.  Now, many years later, I recognize that two decades is an interval that fits easily into a lifespan, and I appreciate how the shadow of WW II shaped the world in which I grew up.

Today is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination.  You have to be at least in your mid-50s for the words "November 22nd" to summon the automatic recollection of where you were when you heard the news. But no matter what your age, this event casts a shadow on all our lives.

These days we live in the age of social media, in which we are constantly prompted to share our experiences.  But this is nothing more than digital show-and-tell. True sharing is more like the air we breathe or the DNA that molds our bodies and reflexes. It is all the things that we take for granted.

This is what makes this date so significant. November 22 is the day the official version of events becomes suspect. It is the day the established order is torn apart and never quite stitched back together and the day that ushers in an era of violence in which our leaders are murdered and our cities burn. It is the prelude to a period of rebellion that in turn, leads to reaction and suppression.  

Any violent watershed event etches a clear border in our lives. Pearl Harbor or 9/11 became preludes to war, but November, 1963 is when beliefs become exposed as myths and we begin to confront awkward truths about our country. On the far side of the events of 50 years ago is a land of innocence to which we can never return. Today we live in a place where we know so much more about what goes on and doubt so much more about what we are told. This is the country we share and this is the day it was born.


With a Perspective, this is Paul Staley.

Paul Staley works for a housing non-profit. He lives in San Francisco.