I had forgotten the date. When Nov. 22 rolls around, I always flash back to the fifth grade and 1963. I’m in my classroom, seated at my desk as usual, but we’ve all stopped working. We’re puzzled, anxious, worried.
My rock-like teacher, Mrs. Smith, is in the hallway speaking softly to another teacher. Her voice is strained. Her words are muffled, but there is no mistaking the sound of her weeping.
Soon, an announcement comes over the public address system: President Kennedy has been shot.
Our buzzing classroom falls silent. Later, as I leave school for home, I pass small clutches of stunned teachers, all with faces stained by tears.
I was reminded of all of this by Paul Greenberg’s fine column, Nov. 22 changed us forever. Do yourself a favor and take a few minutes to read it.
What Greenberg says so well is that events like November 22 and September 11 are staggering because we never imagine them until they happen. When they happen, they fracture the foundations of everything we have come to trust.
Life has a way of lulling us into a warm stupor. We come to believe in the strength and permanence of institutions, we grow confident in technology, we take for granted such transitory things as peace and prosperity, and relationships.
We convince ourselves that mere houses of cards are concrete fortresses. And then a puff of wind collapses it all, and we are stunned.
Life is fragile. Institutions are never as strong as we hope they are.
Daniel 4 tells the famous story of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams and Daniel’s interpretations. Nebuchadnezzar was an unassailable figure, wealthy and powerful, god-like, demanding and overwhelming to his foes. But God troubled him with a dream, and Daniel had the job of unraveling its meaning:
You will be driven from human society and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses. Daniel 4:25, NLT
The mightiest of rulers and institutions are like dust. The earth itself cracks and heaves. But God is never shaken, never stunned. He is always ready to pick up the pieces of our shattered lives and restore our dashed hopes.
Where can we place our trust, but in God?
Update: One of my friends from GodBlogCon 2005, Pastor Mark Daniels, has written about his own memories of the JFK assassination and that very chaotic period in American history. Mark calls his post Reflections on JFK’s Assassination. We’re both amazed at how similar our experiences were!