I was almost 11 years old when President Kennedy was assassinated in November of 1963. I remember hearing the announcement in school and upon getting home watching the drama as it unfolded on television. Because I was not old enough to have any political beliefs the event was nothing more than a tragic situation in my little mind.
One year earlier, when I was not even 10 years old, I vividly remember many things associated with Cuban missile crisis. I believe the reason I have so many memories of that time is because it represented the first time in my young life that I was genuinely afraid. For various reasons, Wichita Kansas (where I grew up) was supposedly one of the locations targeted by the missiles in Cuba.
I vividly remember watching television and hearing that unless something changed, Wichita would be at ground zero of a nuclear catastrophe. Images of mushroom clouds over the Wichita skyline are still etched in my memory after 50 years. Fear has a way of trapping memories and depositing them securely in the long term memory bank.
Traumatic experiences dramatically influence us, especially when we are young. Looking back, the media in Wichita should not have planted in young people’s minds pictures of a nuclear holocaust that might or might not happen. All it did was generate fear and dread.
I remember going with my parents to visit my grandmother in October of 1962. We went there to say goodbye to her. I remember my mom crying (one of the very few time that happened) as she hugged her mother for what could have been the last time.
On the way home I vividly remember crying out; “I don’t want to die”. My dad stopped the car, turned around and sternly told me we were going to be fine and to be quiet. I obeyed but I was confused by images of mushroom clouds, my mom crying and the general panic building in the city. How could things be fine when these things were happening? The crisis was averted and my dad ended up being right. We were fine.
We of course live in a totally different world today than in the early 1960’s. Television and movies have glorified violence and death to the point that kids no longer cower in fear of war, crime or mushroom clouds. Yet, I have to believe that deep inside, kids are still deeply impacted by school shootings, bombings, tornadoes and other morbid events.
I think it would do us all well to remember that the things we say and do may indeed influence a person for the rest of their life. Our words and actions should never be underestimated when it comes to their potential impact on those who look to us for wisdom, instruction and leadership.