Forty-seven years ago today, I was walking into Harvard Yard on my way to Widener to work on some paper or other when two undergraduates ran past me and I heard one of them ask, "Is he dead?" An unsettling question to begin with, and I'm convinced that my mind went immediately to President Kennedy, although that may be only a memory tainted by hindsight.
At the entrance to the library, a guard was listening to a transistor radio, and I found out what had happened. But, being the dutiful graduate student that I thought I was, I kept going. At the entrance to the stacks I met two history grad students I knew, who were already talking about the assassination's implications in dry, clinical terms. I remember saying to them, feeling faintly disgusted at the intellectualization of the event, "Just write November 22, 1963, on a note card and file it."
But I couldn't concentrate on what I was supposed to be researching, and I turned and walked back to my dorm room where my roommate and I spent the weekend listening to the radio. (Believe it or not, nobody had a TV in their dorm rooms in those days.)
All of this came back to me only because I was listening to NPR on my way to the grocery store and some announcer was playing a snippet of the funeral march movement of Beethoven's "Eroica" and commenting on the anniversary. Then it was back to news about the North Korean nukes and the TSA patdowns.
I won't say it only feels like yesterday, but it hasn't been so long ago since November 22 was an occasion for memorials of one sort or another. Now it's just another day to mark off the calendar on the way to Thanksgiving and Christmas. And maybe that's the way it ought to be. But those of us who "remember where we were when" can recall November 22, 1963, as vividly as most people now remember September 11, 2001. Those beautiful autumn days when human life and death seemed so out of phase with the weather.