It was thirty years ago today: December 8, 1980

I remember that day. It was snowing pretty hard in my town, my mother had picked my sister and me up from some class or other and we’d driven back to the house in a steady snowfall. When we walked in the door, pulling off hats and gloves and shaking away the damp, my father met us, almost eagerly. “Guess what,” he said, and went on to answer his own question before we could. “John Lennon is dead.”

My typical denial-of-crisis-or-bad-news-of-any-kind kicked in and I replied, “No he’s not.” Because he couldn’t be. Things like that didn’t happen.

“Yes, he is,” my father said, and pointed toward the news on the television.

Things like that did happen.

I still don’t understand why they do. What forces seek to destroy creativity, and love, and joy. Why someone alone and desperate would begin to see a musician, songwriter, singer, and political activist he’d never met as an enemy. Why anyone would believe they have the right to end another life so violently. But these things happen every day; once in a while they happen to someone famous and then we all hear about them. The next day at school, there were just a few of us who loved his music enough to grieve openly, and we hung on to one another momentarily before sliding away, to pretend to go about our daily routine, while his phrases haunted us: all you need is love; you say you want a revolution; christ you know it ain’t easy, you know how hard it can be; instant karma’s gonna get you; strange days indeed; give peace a chance.

Nearly thirty years later, I spent the day that would have been Lennon’s seventieth birthday in Bratislava, Slovakia, and visited the Slavin memorial. The memorial marks the liberation of Bratislava from the Nazis by the Russian army in 1945, and over 6000 Russian soldiers are buried there. I found myself especially moved by a small peace garden there, added after the end of communist rule. I walked back down into the old town and had lunch outside; as I ate, I heard a street musician play Imagine on guitar and harmonica.

John Lennon’s life was complex, his art was beautiful, and his music helped all of us discover new ways for our souls to soar. That cold winter day thirty years ago ended his life, but thank dog, we still have his music. Go listen to some right now, and remind yourself how amazing this world can be. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

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