Monday, November 22, 2010

Bozo to Cronkite ... the view from my own grassy knoll

I remember being 8 years old and sitting in the elementary school gym eating my lunch and watching "Bozo the Clown" on an old black and white television. 3rd grade. 1963. As far as I knew it was a good time to be alive. I knew little about the recent "Cuban Missile Crises" or the brewing war in a southeastern Asian country named Vietnam. I just knew that Tuna + Twinkies + Bozo = a rollicking good time. And little did I know that this impending seat in history was provided for me by the mere fact that it was a rainy Friday and we couldn't go out for our post-lunch recess. Thus the noisy gym, plenty of bouncing balls, and a handful of Bozo fans.

Then this guy name Cronkite screwed it all up. He invaded our convex vacuum tube and, pulling his glasses from his mustached face, told us that the President of the United States had just been shot in Dallas. I remember thinking, "Dallas. That's in Texas. There's lots of guns in Texas." And then the teachers were ushering us out the door, whispering in hushed tones that we should go to our class rooms, sit at our desks, fold our little not-yet-wrinkled hands, and wait for our teachers.

In a few minutes Mrs. Schilling showed up. She was the best 3rd grade teacher e.v.e.r. She "got" my jokes. She even allowed herself to laugh at them on occasion. Mrs. Schilling began teaching us something. I have no idea what it was. I was thinking of presidents and Texas and guns. And then there was a man standing at our door. His name was Mr. Reeves and he was an individual of epic personality in our little school. Everyone loved and respected Mr. Reeves. He stepped inside of our class room and reverently told us that our President was dead. I was too young to really get a handle on the concept of "dead." Today I am a pastor and I've been one for the last gazillion years. And I've buried a gazillion dead guys. And death doesn't really bother me anymore even when I realize that someday I'm going to be the guy in the box and maybe some 3rd grader will be wondering what it means that his pastor is dead. I truly hope it doesn't bother him too much. I don't expect that it will bother me.

But on that day I was bothered. I went home after school and my mom was crying. My dad came home and he seemed empty. Shell shocked. That didn't happen often to my dad, a grizzly veteran of a fighting "half track" in WWII. Nothing shook my dad. He single handedly destroyed the Nazi machine and even captured one of their nasty flags and brought it home as a little bit of memorabilia. (You ROCK "2nd Armored!") But today he was off his game. He was shaken.

And now it's been 47 years. I've been to Dallas a few times. I've walked around the streets where my president was murdered. I've stood on the exact, precise spot where he sat in the back of his open-air limousine when the assassins bullet took his young life. I've reclined on "the grassy knoll" and contemplated what it all meant, vacillating between images of Bozo the Clown and a flag draped casket. I've climbed to the 6th floor of the old "Texas School Book Depository," to the snipers perch where the rifle spit out death and robbed us of innocence and a sense of invincible glory. I don't know why but I'm drawn to that spot. I'll be back in Dallas to do a wedding on New Years Eve. I imagine I'll conjure up a good excuse to at least drive down that road while I'm there. I know. It makes no sense. But something in my heart knows that my country began to change nearly as quickly as that speeding piece of lead. I don't understand it at all. But you will never convince me that that was not the point at which we crested the hill and began a downward coast.

I've never written about history before. And now propped up here in my bed late at night I realize that I have witnessed my fair share of it. If I lived in a typical 3rd world country I would probably be dead by this ripe old age. But, by virtue of being a resident of the United States of America, I might well have a decade or two left in me. Who knows what's left to see? I mean how do you follow up 3 huge assassinations, hippies, anti-war riots in downtown Chicago (25 miles from my sandlot baseball diamond,) guys getting hurled into outer space, other guys landing on and walking around on the moon (I was only 14 and we haven't done anything that impressive since,) the creation of Pop Tarts, "shock and awe," and let's not forget crumbling burning collapsing skyscrapers. I could go on but suddenly I don't want to. You see, I'm typing words without ink onto a glass screen and I'm going to hit a button that doesn't really exist that says "Publish Post" in a minute and then people in Trinidad and Beijing, and Poughkeepsie will be able to read this on their own glass screens if the want to.

But you know what I really want? What I think might really make me happy?

A tuna sandwich. A black and white television. Bozo the Clown. The entire show this time. And then I want to go back to class and listen to Mrs. Schilling teach me something. But that is not going to happen. Truth is, there's just not much "shock and awe" left in me.