One of those timeless moments in 1963.
Anyone old enough to remember will recall that time stood still. Those memories are frozen with every detail -- when and where we were, how the word was passed and how people around reacted. Later, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and M.L. King would have a similar impact, but it was the death of Jack Kennedy that shook the nation to its roots.
I sometimes think that the Sixties in all their madness were a visceral response to that event. Children who have lost parents are known to internalize that trauma as guilt. At least that was the theory a few years back and the basis of trauma counseling for kids. I have seen it expressed both in movies and real life so there must be something to it. It's an irrational reaction, of course. There is no reason that a child whose parent has died as the result of an accident or medical condition should feel personally responsible, but that is how it is perceived. It was my fault. I was not good enough. I should have done more to protect him or her. I must have done something wrong.
There are cases, though, where the child really did do something to bring about the loss of the parent. Playing with fire, distracting a driver, handling a loaded firearm... In these cases the guilt is earned. The parent really is lost because of the actions of the child. Forgiveness and release does not come as easily in these cases, but "life goes on," such as it is, as the pain of loss fades but never quite disappears. Such was the case of the Sixties.
Some of us glimpsed a better way. We knew there were social habits that had to change. We knew that a war was underway somewhere in South Asia that should not have been started. We knew that conscripting young men for that war was not the same as doing so for World War II. We knew that the government was not being faithful to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. And we knew that if we didn't correct these wrongs then we would have to live with the results. Like the child whose horseplay in the back seat caused the death of a parent in a car wreck, we looked at life with exaggerated seriousness. We sought to correct problems in a generation that later we would learn are endemic to the human condition.
In the process we lost our innocence. And like the young person who has smoked the first pack of cigarettes, finished the first bottle of alcohol with his buddies, or waked up after that first night of lovemaking, a whole generation embarked on a decade or so of boundary-testing. We learned the hard way that boundaries serve a practical purpose. We learned that without boundaries there is no order. We learned that role-modeling good behavior is more important to generational development as saying Do as I say, not as I do.
Unfortunately, and this is the legacy of the Clinton years, we learned too late. It took nearly three decades for the Sixties to work its way through the system to become manifest at the highest office in government. Bill Clinton's presidency represents in many ways the culmination of what began in the Sixties, with all the excitement and hopes for the future, but also with its dark underside of moral turpitude. Having been there and done that I now hope that the lessons of that time have been learned and internalized. Unfortunately, it seems politically impossible for anyone to change his mind or behavior without being called a hypocrite. We saw that plainly in the last election with the pathetic and failed attempt of John Kerry to reconcile the contradictions of his past with mandates of the present.
For many of us the last year or two have been deja vu. I know that Iraq is not Vietnam and the attack on the WTC is not the same as Kennedy's assassination. White phosphorus is not the same as napalm and Abu Ghraib is not My Lai. But our behavior as a nation strikes me as inappropriate and irrational as that of the Sixties. I almost said the "children" of the Sixties, but it was not all done by young people. Many of those whom we followed, who guided our behavior, were adults. They were mature, solid, wholesome, responsible adults. Some were already old and would never live to see the results of what they were encouraging, not because they were killed or sacrificed, but simply because they were too old to live that long.
To the degree that adults can make the same mistakes as children, that happened to us as a nation in the Sixties. And in many ways, the same thing is happening again today.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
One of those timeless moments in 1963.
Posted by Hoots at 4:25 AM