Some critics have described the 50th-anniversary commemorations of President John F. Kennedyís assassination as yet another example of self-absorbed baby boomers refusing to relinquish the spotlight.
They regard the cascade of books, TV specials and analyses as just more maudlin naval-gazing by an overweening generation that canít fade away soon enough.
If you have no recollection of Nov. 22, 1963, itís almost impossible to explain why it still resonates and reverberates, and how it has changed our American story.
Perhaps itís simply the way of time. Fifty years from now, it will be difficult to convey to those born after Sept. 11, 2001, why it was so significant. How life before that day was so different. How it changed everything.
The gift ó and curse ó of recorded history is that it can crystallize and immortalize a moment.
Which means that, no matter how many times you see the pink suit, the red roses or the blue sky, you still catch yourself hoping that perhaps time will hiccup and that whatís about to happen wonít.
Thereís a feeling of helplessness because they canít be warned, because itís clear they havenít a clue about how their lives were about to change.
Nov. 22, 1963, matters to Americans of a certain age because it upended what we believed about our country up to that moment.
Someone recently remarked that America is exceptional because itís the one nation that constantly strives for better. But the self-assurance that comes with growing up American can be a vulnerability. On Nov. 22, 1963, our can-do naivetť was forever shattered.
Even now, we still donít want to believe or concede that a nation of such power and promise could be so susceptible to a single broken thread of discontent ó that virtually anyone could hijack our collective destiny.
So because of this, some of us remain haunted by ďwhat if?Ē
How many fewer names might now grace the Vietnam Veterans Memorial? Who might we be as a nation today had Kennedy been given more time in office?
For kids raised on Tang, Captain Kangaroo and ďAmerican Bandstand,Ē the assassination was a horrifying introduction to the wider world. We watched wide-eyed as the world stopped spinning; as the still-shocking murder of their president reduced the normally strong and reliable adults around us to rubble. It dashed any notion that America was above the kind of hatred that perpetuated such violence in lands too far away to touch us.
If nature abhors a vacuum, so does grief. It would take adulthood to understand that myth, however well-intended, is not truth. In our sorrow, we created, demanded an Icarus-like image to replace the mortal man, one who could never again be taken from us. But it was self-serving and unfair, and impossible for anyone to live up to.
Page 2 of 2 - ďFacts,Ē as another president said, ďare stubborn things.Ē John F. Kennedyís failures and imperfections are well-documented. In remembering his death this week, Americans arenít trying to paper them over.
Scrubbing the pages clean never has been the point. It always has been about what might have been.
Reach Charita at 330-580-8313. On Twitter: @cgoshayREP