Paul Greenberg

It is only a week away. Next Friday will be November 22nd and the 50th anniversary. Dallas is steeling itself for the attention, the crowds, the people everywhere with their smartphones taking pictures. Nothing is real now till it is becoming an image. Not even that unreal day half a century ago now.

Tourists will shoot pictures -- I hate that word, shoot, in this context -- of the restored old Texas Theatre on West Jefferson in the Oak Cliff neighborhood. That's where the assassin had tried to hide in the darkness after having killed again -- this time a police officer named J.D. Tippit who'd stopped him as he hurried along a sidewalk, disheveled, walking fast, as if he had an appointment somewhere down below. "War is Hell" was playing at the Texas that day. The marquee will still say so.

Time has stopped again, just as it did that day, which was covered in its own darkness somewhere in the shadowland between fear and confusion, disbelief and the American propensity to believe anything -- a darkness so thick it could be felt, lit only by the flickering black-and-white images on the televisions left on night and day. So they could record the next ghastly vision as the assassin was himself assassinated. Would this air-conditioned nightmare never stop?

Fear and confusion were everywhere. What to believe? Conspiracy theories filled the air. The Birchers had done it, it was all Dallas' fault, with all those right-wing, oil-rich, gun-toting cowboys loose over there. In Moscow, the Russians kept saying they had nothing -- nothing! -- to do with all this. Nyet! As if they knew of Comrade Oswald's political leanings and his time in Moscow and Minsk, and were already trying to deflect attention from all that. Naturally they succeeded only in attracting it, like a disheveled type hurrying down a sidewalk with a still-smoking gun tucked into his waistband....

Nov. 22, 1963, to Nov. 22, 2013. Fifty years. There will be speeches and documentaries. And what will they say? What is it we will read the next day? To quote Shakespeare's prince of Denmark, words, words, words. The same newscasts, the same bulletins, the same confusions and consternations we heard 50 years ago as our own prince lay dead on a gurney at Parkland Hospital.

And then came ... the music. Haunting, ethereal, resolving into resignation and acceptance and renewal, like a chord. Like death and transfiguration. They played it night and day, like light dispelling darkness. It was Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings." Comprehensive, dissolving, comforting the mourners and girding the spirit for whatever lay ahead.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.