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1968: It’s been a long time since the times changed

A half-century since 1968?

This, of course, is impossible.

Likewise absurd is the rumor of two great-grandchildren, the impending 60th high school reunion and the fact that with our own four “kids,” we could start a local chapter of AARP.

Fifty years? Where did the time go?

Let’s not wear ourselves out with the question. It went, that’s all. Poof. Time flies. No one mentioned how fast.

But 1968 is worth remembering — all that happened, what it meant.

Assassins brought down Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy. The war in Vietnam led the nightly news. Democrats battled at their Chicago convention. Feminists protested the Miss America pageant. Campus turmoil, LBJ, civil rights, the Poor People’s March on Washington — it was something, all right.

On its website, the Smithsonian Institution shows a timeline of 1968. Title: “The Year That Shattered America.”

And, yes, there were more than a few moments when the country — and most everyone in it — seemed ready for a straitjacket. “Why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people?” wondered astronaut Frank Borman after viewing Planet Earth from the Apollo 8 spacecraft.

But for all the discord and dysfunction, for every troubling headline and street-corner screaming match, there was, I think, more hope than fear — a sense that, as young people, we were witnessing something extraordinary and, all of us, regardless of politics or persuasion, would gauge life accordingly, maybe forever.

Bob Dylan saw it coming.

“The times they are a-changin’,” Dylan had forecast a few years earlier in a voice that, itself, seemed a frontal assault on the status quo. By 1968, the old order was in full flight. Simon and Garfunkel, innocent and amazed, caught the spirit. “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?” they asked. “Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.”

Restrained, graceful, private, the Yankee Clipper wasn’t in the lineup anymore. “Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away,” sang the kids from Forest Hills High.

No doubt about it: We were on our own.

“It was a time,” I occasionally say to friends from ’68, hearing myself sigh.

“Yeah, it was a time,” someone might answer, as if together we had reached consensus on something remarkable.

Well, of course it was a time, I say to myself in less self-absorbed moments. Every time is a time. You don’t want to become an Abbott and Costello routine.

“It was a time.”

“What time?”

“Time was.”

“Time was what?”

“Eastern Daylight. Whatsamatta with you?”

It’s easy to overdo it, all right, slide so deep into reverie that you have to be pulled back by the emergency squad. And it’s important to remember not everything was earthshaking in 1968. The sweetest stuff didn’t earn time on Walter Cronkite’s evening report.

I remember our three little kids — the fourth arrived in ’69 — at a picnic table, mowing down a stack of all-natural peanut butter sandwiches. There were my brave attempts to learn the guitar. (“Do you practice?” asked the weary instructor. “Sure,” I said. To which he replied, “You must practice your mistakes.”) And Wink, my wife, in overalls and a red T-shirt, hair in pigtails. A Volkswagen bus — yup, that, too.

Maybe there was a “Question Authority” sticker on the rear bumper. I’m not sure now.

That was the spirit of the time — the zeitgeist, as people said back then. Take nothing for granted, was the idea. Ask questions. Ask some more. Who’s running the show, anyway?

Some of that stuck.

Years later, the top executive at a place I worked invited a few people — me included — to his office. It was one of those get-to-know-you exercises, all good intentions.

As the conversation went along, the subject turned to one corporate policy or another that I thought maybe could use a little improvement.

The boss disagreed. I disagreed back. He went another round. Imprudently, I did, too.

“When did you get out of school?” my employer asked, bringing the discussion to a close.

I told him, 1964 — precisely when Dylan announced the times they were a-changin’ and four years before ’68, when the times may have changed even more than the prophetic song man expected.

“Uh-huh,” said the boss. “I thought so.”

We shook hands. I kept my job. No harm done and, who knows, maybe a little good.


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