The way we work, we wait for anniversaries to commemorate anything. It seems arbitrary; why not remember the things worth remembering spontaneously? That would never work. We need a roster of commemorations, something like the calendar of saints the church has. Since 9/11, the terrorist attacks has received a big annual commemoration, but already it has become smaller, except for the decade anniversaries. The last time anyone made a concerted commemoration of JFK’s assassination and the beginning of Doctor Who was ten years ago, and now their time has come again.
I like to make something of coincidences; it’s what drives the work of my favourite novelist, Paul Auster. The 22nd November 1963 was a day thick with coincidences. An hour before JFK was mortally wounded so publicly, C.S. Lewis had died quietly in his bedroom with only his brother around; twelve minutes before this, Aldous Huxley had also slipped quietly away. Lewis’s stepson tells of that day. He learned of his stepfather’s death after news had broken of JFK’s death. Alister McGrath’s biography tells how Lewis was to be buried with few in attendance at the funeral. Christian apologist Peter Kreeft has written an expanded edition of Between Heaven and Hell, an imaginary posthumous conversation between Lewis, Huxley and Kennedy, three representative figures of the twentieth century.
But the anniversary the daily Google search page chooses to commemorate is that of Doctor Who – which doesn’t turn fifty until tomorrow, 23 November. The Doctor is a counterpoint to all those deaths, a messiah who can regenerate, who is not limited by space and time. Perhaps Kreeft should have added him to the conversation, but maybe that would just get silly.
The Monday after JFK was shot, Perth’s most infamous murderer, Eric Edgar Cooke went on trial. I remember the author of Broken Lives, the account of his murders, remarking that Cooke would have been sorely disappointed that his infamy was overshadowed by the death of JFK and then the death of his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald. As much as that is true, Cooke’s years of terror shaped Perth far more than Kennedy”s death. Everyone who remembers that time in Perth has a story about Cooke, has a distinct memory of hot summer nights when they were suddenly too scared to leave the door open or sleep on the verandah.
I’ve read snide remarks by people sick of hearing about JFK’s assassination in these couple of weeks. Yet for me, it is endlessly fascinating, the quintessential American event. It brings together so many great American themes – presidential celebrity, criminal celebrity, the Cold War, the South vs the North, gun culture, and conspiracy theories. It has produced two novels I like immensely – Don DeLillo’s Libra and Stephen King’s 11/22/63.
The Doctor, JFK, C.S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, Eric Edgar Cooke – such a bizarre and fascinating juxtaposition as only coincidence and history can serve up to us.