Two Jacks died on November 22, 1963. The assassination of the first, John F. (“Jack”) Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, made international headlines, and still frequently does. The death of the other, C. S. (“Jack”) Lewis, an unpretentious Oxford don, went almost unnoticed. And yet, 53 years later he is considered one of the most influential spiritual thinkers of all time. Outside of their dying on the same date (and being of Northern Irish heritage), there is little to connect them.
Yet each marked a turning point in my life.
I was 13 when Jack Kennedy was shot, a dreamy kid who, apart from the Cuban Missile Crisis the year before, paid little attention to the world around me. I hadn’t needed to. Everything would be fine. People were good. Life was good. And then the unthinkable happened: a man full of inexplicable rage had murdered the president. And the clean, orderly world was suddenly full of blood and chaos. Coach Sebo told us at the start of P.E., and then cancelled all activity. A few of us silently followed him into the gym and watched as the normally stoic man sat sobbing at his desk. And then we cried. Because if Coach Sebo was crying something must be permanently broken. A short time later I discarded all remaining shreds of belief and announced that I was an atheist.
But 13 years later (what is it about that number), the other Jack invaded my life. My backwards pilgrimage to faith—a faith based in reality, rather than guileless, boyish longing—had led me to doubt my doubts, and finally to leap toward the God who was there when I was born and would be there when I died. The moment I landed, I found (through his essays and stories) my spiritual father waiting. Jack Lewis’ own journey half a century before became a map that guided me, and the growth of his witty, greathearted spirit a fire that warmed me–and still does.
So every year on this date I celebrate a double anniversary: one that marks my awakening to the darkness enshrouding our world, and one that marks my embracing of the light that shatters that darkness.
Incidentally, my first child was born 13 years later. What is it about that number?