For many years, I referred to Dec. 8, 1980, as the day that a part of me died. The memories are etched in my mind's eye: a series of images that move from belief through full grief in a way that I imagine our elders experienced with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
I was a senior at Clackamas High School in Milwaukie, Ore., when John Lennon was murdered, a little less than a month shy of my seventeenth birthday. On the night inq uestion, I was performing in Fiddler on the Roof, both in the chorus and (with a quick change) as Grandma Tzeitl in the dream sequence. My boyfriend, Matt G., was running the light board. My best friend and fellow Beatles fan, Rashas, was ushering in the front of the house.
It was snowing all over Oregon that night, and Rashas decided to drive home rather than remain for the show. I went through the first part of the show, hit the dressing room for my costume and makeup change, and headed through the backstage to the wings for my entrance.
And that's where I was when a tearful Rashas came in and whispered to me what she had heard on the radio news: that John Lennon was murdered in New York City. She had turned the car around to tell me.
I am ashamed to say that I didn't believe her right away. I went onstage, did my performance, my next quick change, next performance ... and then collapsed on Matt as the words Rashas spoke sunk in at last.
My long-time friend, James, was playing Tevye. We'd known each other since our days at John McLoughlin Junior High. He came off-stage and mouthed, "What's wrong?"
I whispered, "John Lennon's dead."
He hugged me hard before he went back onstage.
To this day, I'm not sure how I kept from falling apart inappropriately. Perhaps it was because I could cry openly during "Anatevka," the number during which the little village is emptied during a pogrom. I don't know.
I couldn't focus the next morning in class; I felt as though a family member had died. Perhaps that was what we all felt. John Lennon, with the rest of the Beatles, had been in our living rooms via the television, stereo and mainstream media. Fans knew things about his personal life and, thus, felt like we knew him.
Rashas and I did something uncharacteristic: we left the school grounds. While two of our classmates were lowering the flag to half-staff, we went to a florist and bought carnation boutonierres wrapped in black ribbons. We got on the TriMet bus that went downtown and got off at Terry Schrunk Plaza to join our fellow mourners at a public memorial service.
In some ways, I attribute my subsequent involvement in Portland's music scene to that event. A band called The Malchicks was playing, fronted by the most beautiful man I'd ever seen. Billy Rancher, who would himself die of cancer a mere six years later, sang "Imagine" and "Happy Xmas (War is Over)." A photo of John Lennon, attached to a tree in the background, seemed to smile serenely upon us all.
It was a gathering of love and remembrance. We were surrounded with people who were willing to hold hands with strangers and sing along to words of peace, love and communion in the strongest sense of the term.
Looking back across thirty years, it's hard to bring back that feeling. So many wrongs have been sacralized by their perpetrators that John's words, exhorting us to imagine no religion, seem especially poignant.
Perhaps the best way I can remember John Lennon, today and every day, is to reach out a hand in peace and love to a stranger.
RIP John Winston Ono Lennon, 10/9/40 - 12/8/80.
"All we are saying is give peace a chance."
Causes Sharon Cathcart Supports
Shadow Forest Authors, Operation eBook Drop, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS