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Commentary: Thanksgiving 1963

Thanksgiving 1963 was a somber occasion because of the assassination of President Kennedy the previous week. Commentator Gus Succop says his death made Thanksgiving especially important that year. He also learned a lifelong lesson that day.

Many of us still remember exactly where we were on November 22, 1963.  I was in fifth grade.  After gym that day, our PE teacher told us the news: the president had been shot.  We looked at each other as if our teacher had just spoken to us in Swahili.  That weekend, our family ate every meal in front of our black-and-white television set.

For one generation, that November day will never be surpassed in shock and sorrow value.  That day brought many of us out of an age of innocence and placed us into the sobering reality that we live in a world where bad things do happen.  On Sunday, November 24, the day Ruby shot Oswald on national TV, I heard someone wonder out loud, When will it end?  Those words frightened me.  At the age of 10, I became truly afraid for my life.  I longed for a word of hope, a sign that somehow tomorrow would be different by being better.   

Three days after President Kennedy’s funeral was Thanksgiving Day.  How could a nation in mourning celebrate a spirit of thanksgiving?  How could America gather together to give thanks in light of what we had just lost?  When my uncle prayed over our Thanksgiving dinner, he spoke words that caught my attention.  He began, Lord, even in our sorrow teach us to be thankful.  From Thanksgiving 1963, I took away this life-lesson: it is possible, if not necessary to be grateful no matter how wounded one’s heart becomes.

On the 50th anniversary of a dark hour in our nation’s history, I prepare for Thanksgiving with the help of that life-lesson.  Thanksgiving, I continue to discover, does more than fill an empty stomach.  The purpose of Thanksgiving is also to heal the wounded heart that somehow finds its way to the table of thanksgiving.