The evening of Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, my roommate’s boyfriend was to sing in Gilbert and Sullivan’s Yeomen of the Guard. His solo had the line, “With an ounce or two of lead, I dispatched him through the head!” When we learned midday that President Kennedy had been shot, our friend panicked. “I can’t sing that tonight! I know the show must go on, but I just can’t! I can’t!”
In retrospect, it’s obvious the show would be canceled, like everything else except meals. In the first shock of a personal or national emergency, though, I get disoriented. Nothing is obvious but reflex: save the cat, dial 911, fight/flee/freeze to escape the tiger. Figuring things out, redefining priorities, or discerning which shows must go on takes longer.
Emotions are a blunt tool for rapid response, adapted to keep us alive in the moment. Reason is slower and more finely honed to let us analyze and plan. Survival requires both.
To those who asked since last week’s post, I’m improving, thanks. Perhaps now just sick as a puppy. A couple of disorienting mini-emergencies along the way have settled into practical cancellations and reschedulings. Emotion and reason are each doing their part. Life is good.
Image: Tin box with scene from The Yeomen of the Guard, 1888. Wikimedia Commons.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.