John and Jarrett: I Think I'm Gonna Be Sad
December 8 marks a year that John Lennon was shot to death on the streets of New York, and I think it is appropriate that he be remembered for the singer, musician, poet, father and husband, and man of peace that he was. We, as a society, should also keep in mind the way John Lennon died.
On the night of John Lennon's murder, I paced the floor until dawn, overcome with a feeling of sorrow and helplessness greater than I had known in years. I was despondent not only for, as Walter Cronkite called him, "a man who sang and played the guitar," but for my own son, Jarrett, whose birth I celebrated four months earlier. I call my first child my "happiness ticket into middle-age" because he came into the world when I was 38. I planned for his life to be filled with good cheer and creativity. As John Lennon promised, it would be easy, since "all you need is love."
I wondered why, in the weeks following John Lennon's death, I couldn't shake my sense of gloom. I had never been an ardent Beatles fan; the early songs like "I Want to Hold Your Hand" never appealed to me, and my favorites like "Let It Be" are pure Paul McCartney.What made me link the life of my newborn American, Main Line - born child to that of a former art student from Liverpool, England?
The words strength, character, and survival come to my mind when I think of John Lennon, and I told myself after my son's birth that if I could raise him to understand these concepts he would grow up to be the kind of man I admire. Lennon's strength steered him through childhood abandonment by both his parents, and his special energies led him to form his first band at the age of 16. Twenty years later he was secure enough in his power to retire his career and turn his attentions to raising his own child. Lennon displayed character when he stood up to oppose the Vietnam War, and this same trait was in evidence when he fought the Nixon Justice Department's effort to deport him on an ancient marijuana conviction.
As far as survival, it seemed John Lennon beat all the odds. He hung on through poverty, a broken marriage, fame, enormous wealth, drugs. And he emerged through this labyrinth a decent and kind man, a devoted husband and father, and still a great artist.
I would have told my son someday about John Lennon's victory, his freedom, and his life -if not for Mark Chapman, the man with the gun. Now I'm forced to change the tale. I will have to admit to my child when he is grown that in this country a person's life rests on whim and fancy, that strength and character evaporate on days that pawnshops and gun stores are open, that survival depends not on an individual's special qualities but on someone else's desires and fantasies. Fate may be the hunter in life, but it is surely helped out by neighbors, friends, and perfect strangers with guns in their hands.
The music of John Lennon died at the request of Mark Chapman and with it any illusion that America is a civilized place to live or grow up in.I will tell my son when he is older that he lives in enemy territory; that people who sing, take walks in the park, work hard, care for their families, and love life are losing the war; that the ties that bind are as fragile as the minds of the gun owners around us.
As I contemplate the future of all the Jarretts born in the United States this past year it occurs to me that John Lennon was so very wrong – and he paid dearly for his error. Love definitely is not all you need – and this thought is horrible enough to make anyone pace the floor until dawn.