Last November 22 was the public anniversary--the end of official mourning, the disclosure of plans for a monument, the release of the official version of the story. This November 22 is the private anniversary.
We have built a wall of objectivity between us and that day two years ago--not consciously, but necessarily, because so much has changed. Comparisons between Johnson and Kennedy are rare now, not because we forget, but because the pace of events of these years gives such comparisons a tinge of unreality. The gulf is already too wide for us to say with any security what Kennedy would have done, much less thought, about the issues that concern us now.
The objectivity, though, goes just so far. We can hold a casual conversation about Kennedy for only a few minutes before the offhandedness becomes forced and the objectivity fades into an inarticulate and self-conscious reserve.
Part of the embarrassment is a reaction to the tasteless emotionalism that still surrounds the Kennedy name, a fear of being caught staring at the magazine covers with their sometimes sensational, sometimes only painfully sentimental headlines which still confront us in the Square.
But that is not all of it, for while the volume of vulgarity has decreased since the public anniversary, our embarrassment has not. The embarrassment is due rather to an admission which we are not yet quite ready to make: For us there will never be another Kennedy.
For he was the matrix of our political awakening. We were in high school when he became President; half of us were still in high school when he died. He was our candidate--the first national figure whose emergence we could watch and whose victory we could celebrate as our own. Only once in a lifetime is it possible to feel that first tremendous excitement, to give oneself completely--as another generation gave itself to Roosevelt, perhaps-- to a figure as remote as the President of the United States.
Because once it is over things can never be so simple again. Kennedy was, in a real sense, all of politics to us then. The questions were few and the answers were easy, because he was the ultimate standard. There will be other Presidents who we will support on their paths to the White House, but never again will we feel the personal closeness to the center, the excitement that we did then; we feel old now--we have outgrown our political youth and read now about politicians instead of heros and write papers on the complexities of power.
Had Kennedy lived to serve his full term and them retired, the same thing would have happened; it is inevitable. But his death stands as a line of demarcation in our political maturity: before it, we felt a security, an optimism, and a faith that in the end every problem could be solved by a man was uniquely ours.
We long in secret to recapture that faith; we know that it was naive and we blush for it. And, thinking back on this second anniversary to those days of faith, two years seem like a long long time.