Each evening, from December to December, before you drift to sleep upon your cot, think back on all the tales that you remember of Camelot. ~ Arthur, from the musical, Camelot by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe
Sometimes I wonder at the wonder of coming of age in the 1960s.
With the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy coming up on November 22, 2013, I wonder at the wonder of being present at that time. Of course, there’ve been continual reminders at each marker year; but fifty years…how can that be?
Having turned the corner this year into my seventh decade on the planet, the weight of fifty feels like a couple of heavy bookends in a parenthesis around my life.
Obviously, I was 20, then…in 1963. I was a senior in high school (17) when JFK became president, turning 18 the following May when my grandfather died, Alan Shepherd rocketed into space, and I graduated. I remember walking off the field in my cap and gown, wondering. Already nostalgic for the days gone by, I glanced back over my shoulder at all those I grew up with, all those I was leaving behind. What would happen to us over the coming years of a lifetime?
But Kennedy was president. I, like many other young people, had great expectations. We had expectations of this wonderful adventure…of new ways of looking at life, we thought. We had the magic…of Camelot. Surely, all would be well and beautiful in our world. We’d shoot for the moon. Would the stars be far behind?
My aspirations of making some kind of contribution to a multicultural humanity led me to study languages, to teach a little, to wish I had the skills to be a foreign correspondent, to work in the field of diplomacy – to make this world a better place.
But my great expectations were short-lived. On November 22, 1963 I came home from college, reeling from the news of the assassination. A fellow student had informed me as I walked to class. The other image that stays with me is coming into the house, where my mom was vacuuming and getting ready to celebrate my youngest brother’s birthday that day.
I don’t recall much else, other than our black and white television being on, with probably Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley telling the world of this tragedy.
My other vivid memory is that our college play was that weekend. Of all the plays in the world, we were doing Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. The decision to go on with the show was made partly because of the powerful content of the play.
I didn’t have a main role; I was simply part of the town choir. Yet, I can still feel the atmosphere in the darkened auditorium as we portrayed Emily’s funeral, singing the hymn classic, Blest be the Tie that Binds. I knew the memory would haunt me, always, each time we sung that hymn in church.
The notion that the hopes for Camelot were dashed became apparent as the decade played out, with more assassinations and the Vietnam War. The Camelot we envisioned seemed to disappear back into the realm of Arthurian legend. We settled in to our daily lives of working, marriage, raising families– watching the economy go up and down, sending our kids off to war after war, observing the sliding down the slippery slope of partisan politics, scandals and polarizing religious views.
As for great expectations, author Joan Chittister writes in her November newsletter, The Monastic Way:
In fact, we discover that to live life well we will be forced over and over again to reframe our expectations, to amend our aspirations, to redefine what it means to grow up, to adjust as we go through life.
We learn then, she adds, to find beauty and substance and possibility where we are, as well as where we think we want to be, or even who we must finally become.
So, why does it take some of us so long?
Looking back, between the bookends of 1963 and 2013, I sense that many of us who were of that era still have a mission. Perhaps all the business of life caught up with us. Maybe we grew complacent. Maybe we made so many adjustments that we forgot…about our Camelot.
I realize now, at this phase of my life, what Chittister and others seek to relay. I believe that Camelot does exist for each of us. But we must discover it upon our own exploration. Each journey is different. There is beauty, substance and possibility where we are, if we but look for it.
That fleeting wisp of glory is not outside of us, but within. Now say it out with pride and joy! Camelot: It’s in our hearts, my boy. Where once it never rained till after sundown, by eight a.m. the morning fog had flown…
Now you can tell the story from your heart alone. You’ve made the great discovery, that we are the Camelot we’ve been looking for. We create these shining moments. Camelot: It’s where our visions are.
So every night, from December to December, lay your head down upon your cot; and dream of all the wonder you may find there. Remember all the hero tales: of JFK, King Arthur, or countless names almost forgot.
And, while you are remembering, your heart will seek the vision. If you listen, it will tell you what you always knew. Your heart is that eternal spot…for happily ever-aftering.
Fifty years later, it’s time to lift the weight of those bookends. Clear the shelf; declare it. Get out and do the work we’ve meant to do here. No longer do I wonder why I lived there a distant moon ago.
That land that time forgot, and everything we’ve learned there–that is our Camelot, so envisioned, and now to share.