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List me among those who are ready for the 50th anniversary assassination coverage to pass. Why? Because for a growing number of us, it's an important piece of American history, but it's not our narrative.

The day after the shooting, Walter Cronkite was already telling the millions glued to their television sets that Nov. 22, 1963, would be a day by which they would mark their lives. Americans would forever be asked where they were when Kennedy was shot and what they were thinking.

But I have no real answer. After hearing the news, I'm told my mother bolted into the living room to find me staring at this strange news program that had interrupted "Romper Room." I had no idea what I was watching. All I knew was that this man stumbling emotionally over his words most certainly was not Miss Mariann.

I defer my memory to my mother on this subject, however.

If I cried that day it was not because I was watching the death of a president or the passing of an age, but because I saw my family grieving.

I was the same age as John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr., who had his third birthday 50 years ago tomorrow — the day they buried his father. Newspapers across the nation carried the well-known photo of young "John-John," as his father called him, saluting the procession carrying his father's casket en route to Arlington National Cemetery.

The nation would like to remember that John-John really understood that he was saluting his father that day and not just imitating the soldiers around him. But the evidence suggests he was no less bewildered than any other preschooler that day.

A lesser known picture not captured on film was of John Jr. before the funeral standing with quiet adults gathered around a flag-draped casket in the Capitol rotunda. According to reports at the time, he was as still as anyone could expect a 3-year-old to be, but his eyes began to wander from soldiers to the ceiling, and he became restless.

With a nod from Jackie, John was taken into a nearby office where, according to press accounts, he found a small flag. He asked if he could take it with him. "I want a flag to take home to Daddy," he said.

My heart breaks as much for that story as the image of him saluting a procession that he, like the millions his age and younger, couldn't really begin to fathom.

Many of us continue to struggle with that. We are part of a generation of people — roughly 78 percent of the population — who are running businesses, parenting, going to school and electing presidents, a generation to whom Kennedy is history, not memory.

We've never known a time when the 35th president was not the subject of grief, when he was known simply as "Jack," a name befitting an informal administrative style, rather than "John F. Kennedy," the name of epitaphs.

Moreover, we've never known a time when the idea of national leaders being slain in the course of their daily lives was unimaginable. For some of us, it not only was part of our imaginations, given the years and funerals that were to follow, it almost became part of our expectation.

Four years later, when I was 7, the memorial was for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. When I was 8, it was for Robert Kennedy. The list went on.

Sometime in elementary school, a teacher told me that if I didn't do my homework, I would not grow up to become president. I told her that suited me fine.

"You don't want to be president someday?" she inquired.

"No," I said, shaking my head. I didn't want to die, I told her. That was my narrative.

But there's another reason why I'm ready to move on from all this 50th anniversary discussion. Because, with all due respect to those who experienced those awful hours in real time, not through black and white snapshots and 8 mm film clips, I fear we dwell on this chapter, this idealized period, too much. All the talk about Camelot and the loss of innocence makes me cringe a little, as if a country's greatness hinges on innocence.

It doesn't.

Furthermore, recent coverage has included robust commentary about how the death at Dealey Plaza ushered in a new age of cynicism. It's hard to deny it. But isn't it time we got past it? While America may have been naive to the damage one man could inflict 50 years ago, couldn't it be equally true that we've become too innocent to the immobilizing communal effects of pessimism — and, perhaps, nostalgia?

Nations are great not because of their tragedies but because of their ability to rise above them. "Our strife pertains to ourselves," Abraham Lincoln observed during the Civil War, "to the passing generations of men; and it can without convulsion be hushed forever with the passing of one generation."

My hope is that the next time a major anniversary of the JFK shooting comes around, we're better prepared to show future generations how the shooting may have devastated us but it didn't define us — and that our best days are still ahead.

That, too, would be something worth saluting.

<i>Paul Gullixson is editorial director for The Press Democrat. Email him at paul.gullixson@pressdemocrat.com.</i>