Paul Greenberg

There's a certain slant of light

On winter afternoons,

That oppresses, like the heft

Of cathedral tunes . . .

It's November 22nd. For some of us, the date catches our attention every year. And holds it, fixes it in our mind. This year it's caught the whole country's.

For it's been 50 years today that it happened. And the memories come back: stark, looming, black. Unstoppable. And we live it again and again, moment by moment, as in a flashback that won't go away, our own Groundhog Day that keeps repeating.

It is always 12:29 p.m. Dallas time when the motorcade comes into sight. Nothing ever changes in the immutable past, no matter how much we want it to. We can't stop watching as the awful day unwinds like the Zapruder film, frame by frame:

Click. The presidential limousine coming down Houston makes a sharp left onto Elm.

Click. The president is smiling, waving.

Click. Mrs. Kennedy looks at him with concern.

Click. A bystander jerks his head suddenly towards Dealey Plaza.

Click. The limousine is lost behind a street sign.

Click. The president reaches for his throat, slumps toward his wife.

Click. The governor of Texas, seated in front of the president, falls forward.

Click. The shattering impact.

Click. Mrs. Kennedy rises.

Click. She is pushed back into the car by a Secret Service agent.

Click. The limousine disappears from view beneath an underpass, headed for Parkland Hospital and history.

The film runs 15 seconds. And an eternity.

In the middle of the car wreck or the plunge down the mountainside, or in the mind of the drowning, time slows, then stops -- the way it does for some Americans every year when the page of the calendar is torn away and today's date revealed: November 22.

None of us will forget where we were when we heard. I was taking the subway to a job interview in Manhattan. A dirty, disheveled man came down the aisle -- nothing unusual in the New York subway -- but he leaned over, whispered something in my ear, and moved on to whisper it to the next passenger, and the next, and the next.

It took me a while to make meaning of the slurred words, and then absorb them: "They shot Kennedy in Dallas. ... They shot Kennedy in Dallas. ... They shot Kennedy in Dallas...."

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.