We all knew this date was coming – November 22. It has come 49 other times since it came on that street corner in Dealey Plaza, a permanent marker, a searing scar on the calendars of a generation.
Why is this one so important? More broadly, what is it about turning “50” that takes on such weight, that causes us to pause, reflect, and perhaps look ahead with a different set of eyes and heart?
For the post-World War II and Boomer generations, the assassination of JFK was a defining moment in their lives and for the society in which they lived. It plunged into the psyche a time capsule that has now been dug up and unscrewed again, giving off much of that same visceral vapor of shock last felt 50 year ago.
In a strange way, we actually want to feel that one more time. Perhaps because we can process it through five decades of our own lives, giving it a different texture and patina. As well, we want to feel it again because we know from now on, those emotional tendrils will fray. The meaning of that moment inevitably will erode. In some ways, it’s healthy that we let it go.
Generations hence will read about it, but they cannot feel it. There is at least one layer of distance and abstraction. It is an event; it is not an experience. Once it is preserved only in history books it is no longer part of our consciousness — or our conscience.
We want our past to be near enough so we can see it through the eyes we have today, hoping it can still feel real and present because it means so much to who we are. That’s why we stop, why we must stop if we are to have a clearer picture than we did then. Back then, we were horrified and mesmerized by the events — the limousine, the book depository, the grassy knoll, the dark-suited shooter in the Dallas garage, the veiled widow, the saluting son. Today we better understand how those moments rent open our fears about our vulnerability as a society, perhaps our trust in government, and certainly the delusion that we could master any threats to our destiny. We came away wounded and, perhaps, stronger. But we did not come away untouched.
Turning 50 does that. In our business and personal lives that 50-year mark takes on a consequence that we often fail to anticipate. Birthdays, wedding anniversaries, careers, homes – they all have their special memorial event.
Alas, we also accept that those feelings, too, will decay and fade in the years ahead. It may never be this way again. Turning 50 – whether in our lives or in our business – is a transition, a hand-off. We pass our personal experience and beliefs on to others – perhaps at the moment they will mean the most to us, and with the hope that doing so will allow those stories to stay alive.
Turning 50 is a look back, but it is also that look forward, the voice in our ear that exhorts us to let go a bit and make something of what time we are allotted. The horizon seems not so distant, and a sense of purpose and significance takes turns to a different kind of drive. When we can stop, it is often easier to start again, only with a stronger sense of purpose and clarity.