The final bell sounded at Oaklawn Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas, that Friday afternoon, Nov. 22, 1963, 50 years ago. I ran out to the curb where my father waited for me in our white Rambler station wagon.
I was so happy for the weekend, Saturday morning cartoons in the morning, anticipation of Thanksgiving next week, turkey and dressing and even Christmas in the not-too-distant future.
Although my Dad already knew about the tragedy, he did not tell his second-grade son immediately.
My brother, Steve, a fourth-grader, walked home that day, and I’m sure he already knew. I hopped in the front seat, said, “Hi Dad,” and as my father pulled away from the school toward our modest home at 3310 Collins St., I flicked on the radio.
Immediately, the reporter intoned in a somber voice, “The president has been shot.” Just like that. Those are the only words I remember. “The president has been shot.”
I know those words did not register on my 7-year-old mind, at least not at first. The president has been shot? John F. Kennedy?
The youthful, tanned, handsome man whose photograph I often saw in magazines or whose image appeared on our black and white television screen? How could that be? Our president has been killed?
I know that my father tried to soothe me – to explain. We watched that white and black television screen, all four of us – Dad, Mom, Steve and me – sitting still together, transfixed in our living room in those terrible days ahead. Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald.
Brave and proud John-John in a pea coat saluting his father’s funeral cortege, a scene that made me cry then, and still makes me cry today.
The next week, Dad took us all down the road to Dallas, driving us along the motorcade route, and pointing out the Texas Book Depository Building as we passed.
While we know that President Kennedy, Jack to his family and close friends, was a flawed human being – and aren’t we all – he also had the ability to lift us up through inspirational words. In his inaugural address, he told a hopeful nation “And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” We should still heed JFK’s words today.
Across an ocean and all but obscured by the American president’s assassination, C. S. Lewis, the Christian writer and Oxford/Cambridge scholar, also died on Nov. 22, 1963.
Lewis, also called Jack by his family and closest friends, had the ability, as did JFK, to inspire with his words, both the spoken word and especially the written word.
Through his sermons, essays, children’s stories, science fiction and apologetics, Lewis has become even more widely-read after his death. Have you read “The Chronicles of Narnia?”
Like JFK, Lewis urged individuals to live lives of meaning in service to others.
“If you look for truth,” Lewis wrote, “you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.”
For Lewis, living a life of meaning requires hard work, eschewing comfort and the easy way.
And for Lewis, a former atheist who, “surprised by joy,” found his way to faith in Christ, faith defined his scholarship and his writing, along with every other aspect of his life.
“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen,” Lewis said, “not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
During this week of the 50th anniversary of the deaths of JFK and C. S. Lewis, the president and the Christian scholar, what can we take away from their lives and from their words that can inspire us still today?
I think that both the president and the scholar would tell us, “It’s not about you and it’s not about me.”
“Rather, it’s about what you and I can do for someone else; it’s what we can do for our country; it’s what we can do for our world.”
Story by Duane Bolin, professor of history