Camelot had crumbled.
Through the window in the door of my classroom, I could see my teacher huddle against the principal as if crying. Telling us of John F. Kennedy's assassination, Ms. Turner said "I don't want you to be afraid, though, everything is going to be all right."
Although her words were meant to be reassuring, her body betrayed her. Slumping into her desk chair, my teacher sobbed like a child as several of her students rushed to comfort her.
There was little comfort around the dinner table at our house that Thanksgiving. As my mother and father silently worried about his being deployed to stop an imagined Russian invasion of Europe, my older brothers went over their own plans for building a bomb shelter in the backyard and discussed what the next step for the invasion would be.
For me, all of this was congealed by the black and white images that floated across our television in the background. As a witness to these events, I now realize that this was not just an attack against a solitary man; it was an attack that tested the fiber of American democracy.
On Nov. 22, 1963 we received a wake-up call to tell us that we were engulfed in a universe filled with intolerant ideologies alien to our own. On that day in 1963, the hibernating soul of America received its first awakening shake.
But even at that young age, I realized there was a fundamental and unalterable truth about our nation. Americans did not cower under a wave of oppression; we prepared ourselves for a fight and victory. On 9-11-2001, our reaction repeated itself and was proven to be part of our national character.
This month manifested another eye-opening witness to our political fiber, one which, fortunately, was not tragic but just as stunning in nature. On Nov. 7 we saw our government move from the hands of one political party into the hands of another; a peaceful coupe d'etat. We also heard those of both parties promise compromise and solidarity in attempting to resolve our common differences and move forward.
Our children were able to see that their community, their state and their nation stand as the sentinels of liberty, ready to defend the freedoms of all men by protecting the individual's right to select our leaders without worry of retaliation or bloodshed. That knowledge gives Americans a degree of mental and emotional health that citizens of the Middle East cannot imagine.
The events described are evidence of a peaceful and serene environment that promotes creativity and progress, and a mentality that truly fulfills our founding fathers' promise of prosperity for all citizens. That environment filters down, and is evident in, this one day of the year when families congregate to give thanks for their blessings.
As we gather this year, it is my hope that we will reflect not only on our material surroundings but on the blessing of a national character and political structure that has made it possible for each individual to reach his full potential in peace and without fear.
After President Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, two pictures were forever etched into the national memory: The brave little soldier emotively saluting his father's casket, and the young widow silently watching as a new president was peacefully sworn into office. Recently, two other images have been etched into my own memory: a young widow silently receiving her country's flag in honor of a husband killed in Iraq, and a soldier being welcomed home by his bride.
When taken as an encompassing view of American history, and upon the meditation above, those images offer a very powerful message of hope for all Americans and for the emerging democracies of the Middle East. The life of a single man, or group of men, might be ended by the violent action of cowards; but such an act will only strengthen the determination and spirit of the democratic nation.
Those images also provide a message to our enemies: The American government, its people, and our allies will continue onward and upward until the day when the coward is forced into his corner and asked to surrender. On that day I will recall another voice from the Kennedy era:
"I am prepared to wait [and fight] for your answer until Hell freezes over; if that is your decision" (Adlai Stevenson).
Wishing your and your family a peaceful, serene and reflective Thanksgiving Day.
Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.
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