November 22, 1963. I was in my high school freshman English class when the principal’s voice came over the intercom – sounding weaker than his usual bellow, yet ever more serious. When he got to the part about President Kennedy having been shot in Dallas, my teacher (a very pretty, very self-assured young woman rumored to be dating a NY Giants football player) literally fell into the chair behind the teacher’s desk. She didn’t look so pretty or seem as socially legendary anymore. She slumped and quietly cried. She could not speak. The principal had said enough, ending with instructions for an early dismissal – which got me home within minutes of Walter Cronkite’s iconic controlled yet emotional delivery of the official news that the President was dead. This was the first time I experienced the world around me shutting down and remaining hauntingly still – a stillness and shock that would last hours through the news of Officer Tippit’s death and the return of the Johnsons and Kennedys to D.C. - and continue through the days we watched Ruby shoot Oswald – in real time -- on a boxy black-and-white TV in my living room, and then the funeral.
November 22, 1963. That is the Friday in November I have always associated with the seasonal tag – Black Friday – never the shopping day after Thanksgiving. This Black Friday actually precipitated the closing of most stores – through the mournful weekend and funeral – all of which draped their window displays in black fabric, festooning the official photograph of the President, smiling broadly, contrasted only by the red, white, and blue of an American flag.Having the entire world stop and then remain still for some time was different than the way family and dear friends drop out of the otherwise unaffected flow of the universe for a few days, grieving the loss of a close relative or friend. Through the fifty years since then I can count on one hand the other times I’ve felt that extended collective pause: September 11, 2003, January 26,1986 and December 14, 2012. Three too many.