This is a few days late given all the recent coverage, but I continue to think of something that happened on the day JFK was assassinated. I was in gym class at East Chicago Washington High School when news came the president was dead. I can’t remember who told us, but I think it was our gym teacher, Mr. Arzumanian. In any case, the boys immediately gathered in the locker room with him when one of the students–known as a smart mouth–snickered and said, “I’m glad they shot him.”
At that point, Mr. Arzumanian grabbed the boy by the shoulders and threw him against the locker room wall. Mr. Arzumanian’s face was red and just inches from the boy’s face when he said, with great emotion, “Don’t you wish death on any man!”
I think the boy was just trying to be “cool” and provocative, but he looked anything but, pinned against the wall by a sturdy and upset gym teacher. The class suffered two shocks in short order: news of the president and what was happening in the locker room before us. No one said a word.
But our teacher’s words stayed with me as they have, I bet, with every person there. Spoken in that context and in that way, and with that passion, the words were searing and heartbreaking at the same time.
After decades of not seeing him, I happened to bump into Mr. Arzumanian at a civic gathering. I brought up the incident and thanked him for seizing on a teachable moment. He knew exactly what I was referring to and even remembered the boy’s name–as do I. We all say and do stupid things; if we’re lucky, most are forgotten. I still feel badly for the boy that one of his stupid moments was etched forever in the minds of that gym class because of the indelible event that prompted it.