I was born in 1961.
That may not seem like such a big deal on the surface, but that was a very important year for this tiny little world we’re on. It was the very start of my life and many of the events that began or happened in 1961 world forever shaped my outlook on life, what I believe in, and how I conduct myself as a human being till this day. Being an infant in that year, I could not have possibly known or understood some of the ramifications of what happened throughout that year.
1961- January: US relations cut off between USA and Cuba; Eisenhower warns of the “vast military industrial complex”; John F Kennedy becomes the 35th President of the United States; Bob Dylan arrives in New York City after bumming a ride from Minnesota; NASA sends Ham, a chimpanzee into sub-orbital flight in the first test of a Mercury capsule. February: The first US Minuteman ICBM is launched; The Beatles have their first gig at The Cavern Club. March: The Peace Corps is established by JFK; US Polaris submarines arrive at Holy Loch; I am born on March 14 in Brooklyn, NY at 8 pounds, 6 ounces at 6:00 PM; South Africa withdraws from the Commonwealth of Nations; The 23rd Amendment is ratified giving the residents of Washington DC the right to vote in Presidential Elections. April: Vostok 1 carrying Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin begins Mankind’s quest for the stars; The Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba is launched and fails. May: Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr becomes the first American in space aboard Freedom 7; The Freedom Riders begin their Interstate bus trip to test the Supreme Court’s decision on integration; The beginning of modern genetics occurs as the first experiments on understanding the human genetic code succeed; Race riots break out in Alabama, and the state’s governor declares martial law; the Freedom Riders are arrested in Jackson, Mississippi; JFK launches Apollo program and sets forth the challenge to put a man on the moon and bring them safely to Earth by the end of the decade; Amnesty International is founded. June: JFK and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev meet in Vienna where they discuss nuclear tests, disarmament, and Germany. July: Soviet submarine K-19 accident occurs; first Israeli rocket is launched; Gus Grissom becomes America’s second astronaut. August: Gherman Titov becomes the first human being to stay in space for a full day; Barack Hussein Obama, the first African-American President of the United States is born in Hawaii; the Berlin Wall is built. September: The first and then current UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld dies in a car crash; The first Grey Alien is reportedly spotted. October: Roger Maris breaks the single season home run record previously held by Babe Ruth by hitting 61 home runs; Digital Photography is invented; US and Soviet tanks stand off on both sides of the border between East and West Berlin heightening the Cold War tensions to a new high; the Soviets detonate the still largest ever nuclear explosion of 58 megatons via a hydrogen bomb; Stalin’s body is removed from the Lenin mausoleum. November: Fantastic Four #1 is released starting what will eventually become the Marvel Universe; “Catch 22” by Joseph Heller is published; JFK sends 18,000 Military Advisers to Vietnam, thus beginning America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. December: Fidel Castro officially declares Cuba a Communist nation; the Marshall Plan expires after sending over $12 billion to rebuild Europe after World War Two. Another interesting fact: 1961 is the first “upside-down year” since 1881, where the numbers are exactly the same upside down as they are right side up. The next such year will not happen until 6009.
That’s one HELL of a year.
Time is very much a fluid construct where we are constantly generating the past, present and future simultaneously. What happens at this moment is the past created in the now, and the events of the current moment also shape the future. It is very much like casting a stone upon the water, where ripples spread from the impact; throw in another stone close to the first, and ripples will interact and overlap or not depending upon the size of the stone or the impact upon the water. We as individuals are very much like the stones cast upon the waters of time, and it is not the impact we make upon the water but the ripples that spring forth from us that not only define who we are, but what effect we have on each other. We each have our own destiny and our own part to play in this life, no matter how small or insignificant you may feel it is, you are important to the overall picture.
Some of us are destined for greatness or infamy or both. The men who started this Republic two centuries ago were just humble servants of mankind. They were lawyers, farmers, doctors, clergy, inventors, writers, statesman, and soldiers. They were just as much the everyman as we are; they had no expectations of greatness, nor did they want it. They cared for one thing, something that they were more than willing to sacrifice their lives for; something that they wanted for their children and their children’s children. A bold concept birthed from tyranny and oppression; a commonality of purpose; an understanding that we were very much a different people than our cousins across an ocean were. A concept that has echoed across the corridors of time, a rallying cry for the oppressed and the wanting. A place of hope and refuge, the last best hope of Mankind…
THIS Republic, these United States Of America.
Tomorrow, we begin a new journey; a different chapter in our nation’s history, a point at which the circle has closed, and we are returning to the end of the beginning. The wounds from our Great Civil War will have finally been healed, and the promise in which those men in those halls in Philadelphia will have truly come to fruition. The promise that was compromised in order to begin The Republic which eventually led to the greatest loss of American life in any war. The promise that was compromised which led to our division in 1861, and even though that war which cost more lives of Americans than any other war had ended still was being waged. The promise that no amount of legislation could fulfill…until tomorrow.
I have been witness to many things in history, and have been a part of some. I remember having to tell my mother that both Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were shot (and if you wonder how a 7 year old boy would know what was going on, it was because these two men were such giants it was impossible NOT to). I remember growing up with body counts on the news and seeing scenes of war and protests. I watched my mother weep as she saw the front page of the NY Daily News with a picture of the My Lai Massacre on it. I have seen a man land on the moon, and cheered and smiled in wonder. I have seen Challenger and Columbia destroyed, and cried tears of sorrow. I have seen the Berlin Wall fall, and cried tears of joy. I have seen my countrymen held hostage for 444 days and then granted freedom; a freedom negotiated by a President who gave us hope and optimism; a President I have never fully understood nor appreciated until I have gotten older, and admire much of his leadership and his life as a result. I have worked on Presidential campaigns, marched in protests, helped to organize unions, and sold my soul out to Corporate America for a big buck.
I have seen the birth of my two daughters, wonderful moments that I cannot adequately put into words. I have a bond with three human beings that I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I could have. I have swam many oceans, traveled across this country by train, and climbed mountains where I felt as though I could touch the sky and looked down in amazement at just how far I had climbed. I have nearly died several times, only to be spared for some reason: I have walked out of car wrecks where there was nothing but a tangled mass of metal that used to be a car; missed a collision of several cars on the NJ Turnpike by inches; fallen off a mountain and walked down it; and survived a terrorist attack on September 11th 2001 where I saw 3,000 souls annihilated in front of me and descended into madness and alcoholism as a result. I was somehow given permission to forgive myself for surviving, and an understanding of the point in my life at which I now reside. I have suddenly been granted a wonderful and amazing gift that I always took for granted for the past (almost) 48 years: LIFE. I have come to believe that there is indeed order to the Universe, and there is a reason for all things and all events that have happened and will happen.
Tomorrow is a day which I shall always remember as one which I never thought would occur in my lifetime; a day which gives us all hope for the future no matter our political persuasion. It is a day where our nation and the world will change forever. It is a day of new beginnings, of hands grasped and hearts open; a day of freedom and justice for ALL, not just a few. It is a day that says to all of us that ANYTHING is indeed possible, and NOTHING will ever be the same again. It is a day of celebration and healing, a day of greatness for this country that I love with all my heart. A day of promise and hope not only for us, but for all of Mankind. It is a day of victory for those who have died on the battlefield protecting this wonderful concept, this bastion of Democracy, this paragon of human aspiration. It is a day of remembrance for those who perished in the attacks of 9/11, because in some way their deaths may have made tomorrow a reality; that their lives were not given in vain; that their families’ suffering and the guilt of those of us who have survived carry with us every single day can finally be released (if we allow it to) at one shining moment.
At 12:01 PM on January 20 2008, Barack Hussein Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of The United States Of America, the first African-American to hold that august position. A man who, like me, was born in that pivotal year of 1961; who has seen the world through similar eyes as I have; a man that will need the grace and understanding that no man in his position has ever needed before. A man who will squarely have the weight of this nation, his beloved America, on his shoulders as well as the weight of the world. Let us give him our thoughts, well wishes, and prayers, because he certainly will need that in the coming days. He is now the keeper of the flame of America, the caretaker of that Shining City On The Hill.
He is the closed circle…and the beginning of the next great story that is this country, this Republic, these United States of America.
“I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph in that Days Transaction, even although We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.” – John Adams, reflecting upon language allowing slavery to continue as an institution in The Declaration of Independence