A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality. – John Lennon
It was forty years ago today that John Lennon was murdered outside his home, in front of his wife. John was just forty years old. He was shot in the back four times by a madman whose name I refuse to ever write or speak. Later that night, Howard Cosell’s announcement of John Lennon’s death began with “…An unspeakable tragedy.” That term sums up the immense emotional impact John Lennon’s murder had on millions. December 9, 1980 I stood with thousands of my fellow students for a candlelight vigil in honor of the great lover of peace. On the following Sunday December 14, I joined with millions of people gathered together around the world for ten minutes of silent prayer. Many radio stations went off the air as the world paid tribute to the singer, songwriter peace activist.
With more than half the world’s population under the age of 30, billions of people may not appreciate John Lennon’s legacy. He is most famous for his signature song “Imagine”. That was also the title of his second solo album. This song has touched the lives of billions of people. I will never forget walking, besotted with love, with my future wife (now my wife) in the city of Guilin (famous for its rounded top karst hills). We passed a small coffee shop, the Stone Rose, I heard a young guy playing acoustic guitar and singing “Imagine”. The half dozen or so patrons all joined in to the best of their abilities, as did I. The memory of singing that last line of the second verse together pulses like a brilliant star to this day: “Imagine all the people living life in peace, you.” And it was that sustained rising and falling pitch on “you…” that brings me peace today.
Each year I taught in China, I would celebrate John Lennon’s peaceful vision of “the world will be as one”. But I did not celebrate John with my thousands of students on this day of unspeakable tragedy. I celebrated his life in the week of October 9 – the day he was born. He would have been 80 this year. Imagine that for a moment. All the wonders he could have produced, or maybe he would have simply grown old with his beloved Yoko. I just today found out he had his name legally changed to John Winston Ono Lennon. The final professional portrait of John Lennon was taken that morning, December 8, 1980, by the famous Annie Leibovitz for the cover of the Rolling Stones magazine. The editor wanted just John on the cover, but Lennon insisted he wanted photos with Yoko. On January 22, 1981 that photo of John Lennon naked curled up in a fetal position next to Yoko became one of the most iconic photos of all time.
Over Fifty years ago, the Beatles last performed live on the rooftop of Apple Records. Don’t Let Me Down
People still make disgusting racist remarks about Yoko. I know all too well how painful it can be when some idiot judges the person you love based solely on race. The definition of race is a social construct, and as such we can deconstruct that remnant of the wretched past. A dictionary definition of race includes:
A race is a grouping of humans based on shared physical or social qualities into categories generally viewed as distinct by society. The term was first used to refer to speakers of a common language and then to denote national affiliations. By the 17th century the term began to refer to physical traits.
The fact that my wife and I have different skin pigmentation or we are in different socially constructed groups is meaningless. I would tell my students that there were people who did not like seeing my wife and I together, and just leave it at that. The racism of others is their immorality not mine. But we have felt it together. My dearest sweetheart and I will be together until I draw my last mortal breath and beyond.
Stand By Me
It is astonishing that here we are at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st Century, and we still have to confront issues of racism, injustice, poverty. My mother taught me to overcome racism with LOVE. Her words have been written across my heart since I began school: “You are not better than anyone else, and they are not better than you.” Although I passed that wisdom on to my children, they already knew it deep inside the good people they are. And that, more than anything I know, will lead us to the point where “…the world will be as one”. Amen to that Brother John. So on this anniversary of grievous tragedy, search your good souls for the sticky remnants of hatreds we all grew up with. Clear away the lurking rot of prejudice. Pull up root and stem the dark weeds of animosity and antipathy towards others. Pray for those around you who may be lost within a whirlwind of bitterness and contempt for perceived differences. Shine the light of Loving Peace from your heart. “Give Peace of Chance.”