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It's all too tempting for those us old enough to recall Dec. 8, 1980 to dwell Wednesday on where we were and how we felt when slammed by the news that John Lennon had been gunned down outside his Manhattan home. The sadness, if not the full brunt of the shock, lingers for many all these years later.
But imagine spending part of the 30th anniversary of Lennon’s death reflecting on other memories:
Think about the first time you heard a Beatles song.
Think about the first time you sang or played one with friends or family.
Think about the last time you listened to a favorite Beatles or Lennon tune with a loved one, perhaps someone too young to recall the day the man – but not the music – died.
Take a cue from Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, who has dedicated much of the last three decades to keeping his legacy of peace and song alive.
She's tried for years to make her husband's birthday – Oct. 9 – an annual plea for peace. A corner seems to have turned a couple months ago, on what would have been Lennon's 70th birthday, as a wide spectrum of fans around the world flocked to joyous gatherings, devoid of much of the somberness that marks the usual Dec. 8 commemorations.
In October, Ono took to the Internet and put out a call for fans to tweet “a million wishes for peace for John’s birthday!” and re-lit the Imagine Peace Tower in Iceland. She's apparently planning to maintain a low profile on the anniversary of his death, though on Sunday she posted answers to fans' tweeted questions on her Imagine Peace website.
This exchange caught our eye: "How would you advise a person to move forward after suffering the loss of a loved one?" one tweeter asked.
"You have not lost him," Ono answered. "He is still inside you giving you his love, wisdom and power. Be thankful that he was and is in your life."
There's a danger with passage of time that Lennon becomes more of a symbol than a man; more of a pop-culture saint than a phenomenally talented but flawed human being; more of a rock-and-roll museum piece than an electrifying performer and songwriter whose music is still as fresh as when "Love Me Do" introduced him, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr to the world nearly a half-century ago.
It's also very easy to get caught up in too many what-ifs: What would Lennon be saying about the wars that plague our times? Would he still be making music? Would the Beatles ever have reunited? A newly uncovered interview Lennon gave three days before he was gunned down only makes such questions more poignant, and the answers more elusive.
Time might be better spent turning up the music – whether on vinyl, CD or the iPod – and remembering that Lennon essentially spent half of his 40 years helping give us a enduring soundtrack for our lives.
Just imagine that.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.