Friday, November 22, 2013

November 22, 1963

November 22, 1963: 10:40AM, Pacific Standard Time. I am 11 years old and home alone, sick from school. My mother is at work and two of my sisters (who are still living at home) are in school. My oldest sister is married and living in east Hollywood with her husband and children. There is nothing to do but watch television. I haven’t yet learned how to avoid boredom. I do not have any connection to what is on TV until there is a breaking interruption: just a voice at first with a set of the word, Bulletin, repeated three times. The president’s motorcade in Dallas, Texas has been shot at. Not much was known at first. A little while later, the news was that President Kennedy and Governor Connelly of Texas were both wounded. Shortly after the TV station went live from New York, Walter Cronkite announced the terrible news that President Kennedy was dead, the victim of an assassin’s bullet. I was shocked and furious. This was MY president not just the American President, but the one who represented my first political identity. Prior to him running for president in 1960, I saw the presidents as old, withered men with whom I could not identify. My political birth happened with JFK’s candidacy when I was eight years old. I strongly encouraged my mother to vote for him. I believe she did…after all, he was born the same year as she was. He was smart, charming and attractively young. He was seemingly open. The future. Now what? I demanded of the world that they find the person responsible and bring him to justice. I wrote something like that in big letters and pasted it on the dining room window as it looked out to the world racing by. I’m certain no one saw it except my sister several hours later who berated me for my stupidity. There was no one there but me. I HAD to express my feelings somehow even if no one saw it. By the time everyone was home, it was clear that they all knew what happened. Incredibly, no one shared their feelings or thoughts about it though we all were stuck to the TV broadcast. While watching the funeral procession three days after the assassination, I cried privately, silently to myself. In our family, crying in front of anyone was never encouraged.

For the next few years, it seems, I lived in a bubble alone. I always suspected Lyndon Johnson had something to do with the assassination…after all, who had more to gain from Kennedy’s death? LBJ ran an ugly campaign in the primary elections and lost to Kennedy. He was seen in Fortworth, Texas in the day or two prior to the assaaination as seemingly irritable and unhappy. Those in the know explain that things were not going well for Mr. Johnson politically at the time. He was a man used to having unfettered power as Speaker of the House prior to his failed primary campaign against JFK. Now, he was playing second fiddle to a relatively young upstart that he apparently despised.

Recent re-examinations of the forensic evidence seem to confirm that all three shots came from the Texas schoolbook depository, fired by Lee Harvey Oswald. So, he was a lone gunman. Nevertheless, I still wonder how it was that a man, who defected from the US to the Societ Union, lived there for two years, married and had a child, was simply allowed to re-establish his citizenship and return to the US bringing his wife and child with him. How did this happen in the midst of a very cold war? Unless, he was helped by someone in power...When Oswald was in the US Marine Corps, he was a radar specialist with "confidential" clearance. He was living in the USSR when Francis Gary Power's U2 spy plane was shot down. Did Oswald have anything to do with that? I have no idea, but it's hard to believe in so many co-incidents. It should have been just as hard for US officials as well. He returned to Dallas, Texas where he had lived with his mother prior to joining the Marine Corps at age 17. Of course, Johnson's home State was Texas.

I was devastated and had no idea how to deal with it. It was my first major loss. No one, it seemed, understood the momentousness of that experience for me. They were deep into their own grief.

Five months later, our maternal grandmother died. I remember my sister Hilda crying bitterly in the arms of our mother while I stood across the room dumbfounded. My mother was crying as well. Still, there was no instruction on how to grieve without crying, without stumbling into my mother’s grief. Hilda, apparently, had no problem with it, but she was special…the only one of us born at home and seemingly our mother’s favorite.

When, three and half years later, Hilda died in a car crash, my mother was inconsolable. She never got over it. I felt so helpless. I remember wishing that it had been me who died believing Hilda would’ve been able to help her.

Now, fifty years after the assassination of John Firtzgerald Kennedy, I still grieve and cry alone.

Sunday, November 3, 2013



Ahhhh! I know there are those of you who are very worried right now because you don’t have any idea what I’m about to write. Just stay with me for a little bit.

A while ago, I listened to a debate posted on NPR’s website and aired on 11/21/2011. The title of that debate was “Would the world be a better place without religion?”

Now, most of you don’t have to think about what the word “religion” means. Your set of values and beliefs are arranged nicely and neatly in your own minds and hearts. In the United States, that term most often involves a place for worship, a routine way of worshiping, a set of values or beliefs and a concept (however defined) of a supreme being that created and/or maintains our world and existence. I suppose that this is what was being debated on NPR. However, I cannot say so definitely as NO ONE bothered to define the word religion before or during the debate except for the pro-side which proclaimed that what was NOT being debated was the existence of such a supreme being and that one common aspect of all religious ideologies is that the structure of any religion affords sanctions against doubters or non-believers (“pagans” or “infidels”). That debate, I believe, has been on going since the dawn of recorded history! Now, if you want to listen to the debate on NPR, it will take you about 50 minutes of time when you go to NPR’s website. I’m not going to reiterate the points made for either side here.

Personally, I think it is a moot point, since there seems to have been no time in recorded history when there was no religion and, it could be argued, that humans are hard wired to have beliefs and values based on personal experiences, cultural and family training and an “us versus them” mentality. We look for the similarities and differences between us and "the other" to improve an assessment of danger. That's the "hard-wired" part. What we do with those assessments, is NOT hard-wired. Consequently, the question leads one to wonder if the world would be a better place without humans.

In North America, if you're walking in the forest and, in the distance, see a big, dark brown, apparently furry figure, it is appropriate to feel alarmed...most people would freeze, at least momentarily, until a better look can determine if it is a bear or a bush. If it is a bear, what kind of bear might be important to know in order to develop a suitable plan for response. For example, no matter what kind of bear, knowing that you are not capable of out running it will play a role in your survival. Knowing the difference between a brown bear or a grizzly bear gives you a chance to either make a lot of noise (brown bears are easily startled and tend to run away) or climb a sturdy tree (grizzlies, with their long claws, tend not to climb trees but can push over smaller trees). On the other hand, if you're walking down a well traveled, well lit street in, say, Glendale, CA, and see a person wearing unusual clothing that marks them as an observer of a certain religious persuasion, this is not automatically a cause for alarm. If the person is dressed differently from you, the momentary alarm (your amygdala in your brain) will begin to sound just as it did in the forest before you realized the distant figure was not a bear but a bush. So, what changed between the moment of uncertainty and relief from alarm? Recognition. You recognized the bush was not a bear and experienced relief. Recognition literally means thinking a second time. We fear the unknown for good reason. Once someone or something becomes known, our fear resolves to a certain extent. The more we know, the more options we have for responding to the world around us. What if you can't tell by how one is dressed? Should you ask? Yes, ask YOURSELF, "where are the points of intersection between myself and this other?"

Interestingly, what we need to know more than anything or anyone else is ourselves as individuals: Inside and out, conscious and subconscious, good and bad, beliefs and doubts, peace-loving and angry, loving and hateful, spirit and body. Back to observation is this: religion is the natural, human outgrowth of our beliefs and values. Atheism is as much a religion as anything else. So is science. When you are truly comfortable in your values and beliefs, NO ONE'S other belief system is a threat to you. If your values and beliefs are not yet there, work it out within yourself. Trying to convince or coerce others that your religion is the one and only true religion is, in my mind, evidence that you have doubts. And, there is nothing wrong with having doubts. We are human beings living in a world of constant change. Doubt is natural. Balance is not something to achieve but something we play at from moment to moment. Like riding a bicycle, balance is best experienced while moving forward, not backward and not stationary. Your beliefs and values serve a purpose for you. Know what that purpose is, and you'll know your purpose. Namesté.