50 years ago. This is such as strange phrase. How can I be old enough to talk in terms of half-centuries? But I am. I remember President Kennedy’s assassination. The memories I have from 50 years ago this week are only snippets; I was only six years old.
I don’t remember the announcement from a television broadcast, or my parents telling me what happened. I remember standing in the middle of the bathroom, and crying and thinking or saying, “No.” I remember being angry and bewildered.
I know enough about how memory is created and altered to not really trust details without some sort of corroboration. I never understood why I had this memory associated with JFK’s death since other people my age talk about being at school when the news was announced. Recently, I found the November 22, 1963 entry in my mother’s diary. The entries for that week say I was home sick. So, that makes sense; I was home, and that is why I don’t have school memories related to the announcement of the assassination. All this fixation on “Where were you?” says more about us than about him.
I have many early memories. My first memory about the Kennedy family is just a flash of memory associated with a black, wall-mounted telephone and knowing the President’s wife had lost her baby.
I do remember the coffin, horse drawn and flag-draped, proceeding down the street during the funeral, framed by the TV. Unfortunately, there is no such image, that I can find in any public or news archive, like the one I remember. I have probably cobbled the memory of the Presidential funeral into one single image from the riderless horse that was led down the street and the caisson that carried the President’s flag-draped coffin. In some ways this image from my memory is good and validating, as I know I experienced the event and created my own summary of the events. I didn’t re-remember it by substituting a “canned” image from some retrospective pictorial publication.
Memory changes a little bit every time it is accessed. It is a recursive. It becomes a memory of remembering, and that becomes a memory of a memory of remembering, and so on ad infinitum.
While I remember these things, I know that understanding the influence of an individual is more important than remembering JFK’s funeral. So this week I am delighted to be able to watch BBC’s week-long coverage of the 50th anniversary of the debut of the television show, Doctor Who. The synchronicity of events, especially in hindsight, also falls under suspicion of being altered by remembrance. I choose to pay attention to things, events, and people that are significant. This week events of 50 years ago are being remembered. So I am focused on the hope that came out of the darkness of the Cold War and the Arms Race. The race to put a man on the moon energized the world and gave us new dreams.
A children’s TV series, Doctor Who, debuted on November 23, 1963, historically speaking at the same moment as the funeral of the very man who put the dreams of reaching the moon within a decade into the collective mind of humanity. Uncountable events sparked innumerable culture changes but one change that emerged a year and a half after President Kennedy announced his intention of having a U.S. astronauts land on the moon and return to the Earth within a decade. One of those changes was the debut of a long-lived success of a children’s science fiction show based on travel through time and space.
Kids who were the same age as me grew up believing that the human race, lead by the U.S.A., was reaching for the stars. Yet now, fifty years later, the U.S. Space Program, NASA, seems to be on hiatus, at best. The only part of the dream that is still real for me, and a few million other “Whovians,” is Doctor Who. That is how we connect with our inner child-self that dreamed of peace and scientific exploration of the universe so long ago.
The presence of a continuing Doctor Who series all these decades later also shows how our hopes and dreams have evolved along with the show. It is no longer a kids show. It is a mirror that reflects the heart and soul of the 20th Century. Yes, our President was assassinated. Yes, we landed men on the moon and brought them back home. Yes these events stay with us.
But as the Doctor says in 2005’s episode 6, Dalek, of the new series, “Let me tell you something, Van Statten, mankind goes into space to explore, to be part of something greater.”
Yes, this is what I will focus upon, rather than death and conspiracy theories, I will remember JFK, the space program, and times in which we could believe in what seemed impossible. In these next few days I will raise a glass to the Space Program, the Peace Corps, and a culture that loved science and Dr. Who… I will celebrate the great things a man started “…to explore and to be something greater.”