The only question is why. This is not my favorite chapter of history. I’m not even a huge fan of JFK (although there is much to admire). I’m not some crazed conspiracy theorist. So why invest an evening, drain my patience, and endure such frustration to pass on to my kids a lesson in history that most would like to forget? This is where I could play the I Love ‘Merica card or claim it’s because I am so much more patriotic than you but that misses the point. I didn’t take my kids down to Dealey Plaza because I love American history. I took them there because I love my kids. My children are quite young (the oldest being 10) and one can be reasonably certain most of what they saw they didn’t understand - and that’s okay. If they missed the details about Oswald getting into a fight with his girlfriend, or that he sat up there for an hour and a half while eating a chicken sandwich and drinking a Coke I’m alright with that.
The lesson I most want them to learn (and here is where I’m gonna lose some people) is that we desperately need to cling to the most shameful parts of our past. Let me expand that. The parts of our history that we need to fight the hardest to remember are the parts we want the most to forget. It would be much easier to skip the part about JFK being killed right over there as he sat next to his beautiful wife or heartbreaking moment when John F. Kennedy Jr. told Secret Service “I miss my daddy.” Trust me, I would love to let my kids think the world is all sunshine and lollypops and we could focus on tickle fights and group hugs but that would cripple their potential. They so dearly need to know the mistakes of the past and the wreckage caused by hatred and vengeance. This is not a call for self-flagellation or teaching my kids humans are a blight on the planet. I want my kids to know about the best of our history too. There are great moments when people stirred by noble desires undertook difficult tasks from which we still reap benefits. History is a complicated subject, precisely because it’s filled with humans, but it needs to be passed on.
I was a bit surprised, though I shouldn’t have been, when I found out that following the assassination the city of Dallas had wanted to tear down the book depository. Today they have a museum up on the sixth floor complete with the boxes stacked exactly the same way as on that fateful day, but that almost didn’t happen. The people of Dallas were so overcome with shame that this could happen in their city that in the years following they wanted to tear the building down. They didn’t want to have to drive by such a painful reminder with questions like “how could this happen?” haunting them for decades to come. In fact, it took almost 30 years for the museum to come about.
It may be that that decision to own and embrace rather than destroy and ignore their darkest hour might ironically be their greatest accomplishment. It’s easier to forget. That’s why so many countries deny the holocaust ever happened. But greatness happens when the shame of the past is neither ignored nor allowed to limit the promise of tomorrow. That is what I fought valiantly to instill in my kids that evening. That mysterious dichotomy of what we’re capable of. That evil does exist but also that dreams can put a man on the moon. Please remember that history is a cultural treasure and we all bear the responsibility of keeping it and passing it on. It will not happen if we place that burden on teachers who get 1 hour a day to pass that subject on to the next generation and too much is at stake if it is lost. These lessons cost too much to learn. Let’s not forget them.