Friday, November 22, 2013

Santa, The Boogeyman, and a Shooter On the Grassy Knoll

When I was eighteen, I believed in a much more interesting world.

Magic was real. Miracles happened. Aliens had crash-landed in the New Mexican desert and sometimes hovered their super-cool aircraft above populated areas.

And Lee Harvey Oswald was only a patsy in a vast conspiracy that took out a vibrant, charismatic leader.

These things were certainties. I knew them to be true in the same way I knew that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. It never crossed my mind to doubt; I had seen evidence on the TV and in books. I was young, innocent, and impressionable. Anything that I couldn't grasp in the context of what little experience I had gathered in my short time on earth had to have a dramatic, if not otherworldly, explanation.

Then life happened.

The girl who sat enthralled by her high-school government teacher's unit on the Kennedy assassination and possible Cuba/mob/CIA connections, who wrote a 5-paragraph persuasive essay that Oswald was not the only person with a gun trained on the President that afternoon in November, who believed that a dark contingent in our own government wanted this man out of the way due to a cold war agenda, is now a woman who no longer believes in fairy tales. A woman who watched the towers fall because a handful of men successfully hijacked commercial jetliners in a plan that should have gone wrong. A woman who learned first-hand how fragile life is and how easily it can be taken from even the most youthful and vigorous among us.

On this, the 50th anniversary of the "Where were you when..." moment of the generation before mine, even the teacher who taught me so much about that day is gone. Good men are taken every day by illness, by accident, by bullet, by cruel act of terrorism. It doesn't take a conspiracy. Sometimes it's just a tragic alignment of the stars that places a person in the wrong place at the wrongest of times.

So, at 39, I no longer believe a well-trained, well-camouflaged government agent fired the fatal head shot from the grassy knoll. Though we will probably never know if someone in a position of power encouraged an angry, unstable young man to head up to the book depository that day, I no longer believe it matters. I believe that Oswald sighted the President through his scope and pulled the trigger. And that's the part of this tragedy that really matters. That decision in that moment contains all the blame and all the tragedy of this murder most foul that we ever need to know.

As unfair as it seems, the power of one person to do evil can change the world. And take away a father, a husband, a leader of a great nation. I understand the need for so many to see conspiracy; it's comforting to think that it takes a tangled web of organization, coercion, and cover-up to kill a man who was larger than life. That a single person can't possibly bring a nation to grief.

But a single person can.

I have made peace with the lone gunman. For there is a flip side:

One bad human in the right place at the right time can create tragedy. But one good human in that same place and time can stop it. If you believe the one, you have to believe the other.

And, in the immortal words of Fox Mulder, I want to believe.

No comments: