During the 1963-64 school year, I was a 9th grader at Ogontz Junior High School in Elkins Park, a suburb of Philadelphia. The rollercoaster events that were to take place during that year would prove to be momentous for me and for others of my generation. The first, the assassination of a president, was to take place on a chilly day in November; the second, a mere two and a half months later.
On November 22, a Friday, I was in Home Economics (a course for girls only, where we learned to sew, cook, and otherwise run a home in preparation for what was then expected to be the work of all of us once we reached a suitable age: that of wife, mother, and homemaker), my last class of the day. Feeling bored and restless, I got permission to visit the bathroom along with my friend Carol. As we washed our hands and fooled around with our hair, Carol and I chatted about our weekend plans. Checking the clock, we saw that class would let out in less than an hour, and we smiled at each other. Only 45 minutes to freedom!
Returning to the classroom, we found it strangely altered. The lesson had come to an abrupt halt. Girls sat sobbing, their heads in their hands. Others were shouting, ” It can’t be!” or “I don’t believe it!” or were sitting trancelike in stunned silence, their faces pale. Even our teacher had tears in her eyes. Carol and I looked around us, at a total loss. “What’s wrong?” we shouted, suddenly afraid. Then we learned the terrible news: President Kennedy had been shot and killed in Dallas. Having missed the announcement that had come while we had been in the bathroom, we’d been granted a few precious moments of extended innocence.
After classes let out, I walked home in the chill, my thoughts as dark as the black clouds roiling in the sky and blocking out the sun, asking myself over and over, How could President Kennedy, so vital and handsome, be dead? How could something like this happen here, in America?
The gloomy weather on that November day seemed fitting for the death of a president, matching the mood of a nation. A few days later I sat glued to my TV, watching President Kennedy’s funeral along with my family and millions of others. November 25 was a sunny day, but the spare late autumn sunlight that spilled over Jackie in her black, over the rest of the Kennedys in their somber dress, and over John-John, his tiny figure saluting his father’s flag-draped coffin, did nothing to melt the icy sorrow in my heart. The haunting drumbeat that accompanied the president’s casket and funeral procession, the rhythm of which I can recall perfectly to this day, bore witness to the light that had gone out. The world had become a darker place. For me and for so many others of my generation, the shots that rang out on that dark November day stole away our innocence, and things would never be the same.
On February 9, 1964, a mere 77 days after President Kennedy was assassinated, the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. John, Paul, George, and Ringo were the perfect antidote to the gloom that had settled over everyone in the aftermath of the president’s death—and I was the perfect age to appreciate them. My family always watched the Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday nights, and February 9 was no exception. There we sat, my father, mother, my brother David and I, in front of the little black-and-white screen down in our basement. I can’t remember if we knew they would be on or not, but there they were, mop-haired and adorable. I sat there, my young teenaged self just drinking them in. 73 million Americans watched the Beatles make their debut, and it was the beginning of a love affair for many of them as it was for me. At the time, no one would have guessed that the appearance of the Beatles would end up having such a large impact, one that, while hardly reaching the traumatic impact of the assassination of a young and vital president, would nevertheless exert a powerful influence upon a generation.
The second time the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, the following Sunday, I started screaming as they sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” seriously shocking my parents. They knew me to be a studious and quiet and somewhat shy young girl who got top grades in school and never got in trouble—and here I was, ranting and raving like all the girls in the audience! Right then and there, I became a Beatles freak, and life was never the same. The lads influenced my life in countless ways, even, I suspect, contributing more than a little bit to my decision to become a yogic nun. After all, my interest in Eastern religion and meditation had been sparked by the appearance of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in the summer of 1967, and by the trip to India to visit Maharishi Mahesh Yogi that the lads later embarked on.
Two events, so different, and yet each so momentous. Two events on opposite sides of the emotional spectrum, a kind of cosmic counterpoint. Two events of a rollercoaster school year that would shape an entire generation. And, as we say, the rest is history.