Dealey Plaza basks in warmth and sunlight late Sunday morning, the day after the slayings of 11 innocent people at a Jewish synagogue.
Setting aside the news from Pittsburgh for a while, we explore the place where John F. Kennedy's open convertible approached adoring crowds lining a tight cluster of streets in downtown Dallas. Then rifle shots rang out, and the president slumped forward in a spray of blood.
The setting of John F. Kennedy's assassination in Dallas seems much smaller than I'd imagined.
It's all so close together: the darkened window of Lee Harvey Oswald's aerie, the crude white x on Elm Street marking the spot where the first shot hit the president, the grassy knoll, the place where Zapruder shot his film. The location of that history-changing moment had lived much larger in my imagination.
Now, we've come to the place where the president's motorcade turned, gunfire erupted from the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository, blood and pieces of brain splattered the horrified first lady, the Secret Service agent leaped on the convertible's trunk, and the limousine sped beneath the overpass, headed to Parkland Hospital.
I've experienced the same feeling at Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, Antietam, the World Trade Center in New York City: the dual sense of dislocation and recognition, of history seen anew.
The close-packed space in downtown Dallas is infested with street preachers and ragged vendors pushing assassination trivia and conspiracy theories.
With the line too long and the day too beautiful for us to ride up to the old depository's sixth floor museum, we decided to tour the outside sites, Kennedy's stations of the cross.
The day before, I'd made a whirlwind trip to Austin, where in 1966 Charles Whitman added a new twist to Oswald's model, shooting numerous people at random from atop the University of Texas tower. Whitman murdered 17 people before police ascended the tower and killed him.
Little did the shocked nation know that Whitman would be the progenitor of a long line of hate-infested killers, murdering regular people in public places of worship, education and entertainment.
As we sit on a bench in the brilliant sunlight after our Kennedy assassination tour, the Dealey Plaza fountain soars behind us, the water's soaring rhythm speaking of beauty, healing and ancient rituals. Recalling that moment in 1963 when the world changed forever, I read the names of the 11 slain at the synagogue, people who sought peace and goodness.
Nearly 55 years after Kennedy's death, violence engulfs the nation. Kennedy's words etched on Dealey Plaza monuments recall his lost age of optimism, eloquence and political courage. Like those slain at the synagogue did during their lives, let us choose that message of hope over despair.