As a very naïve thirteen year old boy, I looked up to John F. Kennedy as the embodiment of what life could be like for anybody who was smart enough and who worked hard enough and followed the rules. After all, John Kennedy had all the good things life had to offer. He was smart, powerful, rich, handsome, had a good sense of humor, and a great looking wife.
Before that day, I didn’t understand that it was the tallest blade of grass which was the one waiting for the next turn of the lawn mower blade. I thought if I was smart or had any other traits which would help me succeed, there was no point in hiding them. In school, I would eagerly volunteer by raising my hand as high as I could if I knew the answer to a question in class. If I tried hard in my studies, I would be recognized as smart and be successful in school and life. I truly believed that I could have a life like John F. Kennedy.
Then, on the day of the assassination, after Kennedy was pronounced dead, I began to form a new philosophy of life. That day, I had learned two very important lessons – maybe the most powerful ones of my life. The first lesson was, If you have everything, you must lose everything. Do not aspire openly to greatness. Kennedy lost his life because he had won at life when he was very young. Obviously, in order not to die young, you have to be very careful not to win too soon or too much. After all, I reasoned, you can only have a certain amount of happiness in life. When that is used up, it will not be replaced and you will either lose everything or die young. I spent many years gathering anecdotal evidence of this truth. I saw Hollywood actors and talented singers or sports stars ruin seemingly perfect lives because of their too early or too easy successes. I watched from the sidelines as they drank or drugged themselves to death and shame or died in auto accidents from driving too fast. Maybe I only knew about them because their stories were dramatic and therefore newsworthy. After all, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet weren’t in the news back back then.
The second lesson was, hold nothing near or dear, because it will be taken away, just to hurt you. Hide your dreams. My hopes and dreams didn’t all die at once. I held on to the idea that smart, hard-working boy who played by the rules could be an astronaut ( my second choice after wealthy, powerful, etc.). So along came the various space exploration programs manned by the most boring group of men who ever took to the airwaves. Hour after hour, they droned on in metallic voices, speaking in techno-speak including delta-vee, niner, and other pilot terms in their monotonic voices further robbed of any emotional enhancement by the faceless radio broadcasts. The moon landings were equally uninspiring starting with the “One small step…” speech by Neil Armstrong followed by countless hours of men moon-jumping in clunky space suits, and other great boring activities. Then, I found out just how remote the chances of becoming an astronaut were and the decisions was made.
As I realized that being an astronaut was not in my future, I thought that I’d become a scientist. After all, that was something I was interested in and I was even good in science. And scientists were highly respected. But, not so fast. I found out that in order to be a serious scientist, the type everybody respected, I had to become seriously good at math, something I was only mildly talented at and which was not really that interesting to me. Now, I had another barrier to go around or through. But I digress. Americans learned frustration, impotence, and hopelessness that day. The best idea for happiness, or at least safety, was to not try too hard at anything and not risk anything.
November 22, 1963 was not only the day John F. Kennedy died. It was the day much of what had made America great died for many of us. It was the day that golden opportunities to succeed and be happy seemed to have died for many of us. It was the day many of us decided to drop out. We did it in different ways. Some turned to drugs, some harbored an inner safe self which was protected from harm by just not caring about anything too much. We lost far more than a president that day.