Bob Ward: Remembering Lennon. With Silence.

Updated: Wednesday, 08 Dec 2010, 11:22 PM EST
Published : Wednesday, 08 Dec 2010, 11:22 PM EST

I was originally going to write something about where I was when John Lennon was shot and killed 30 years ago tonight.

But that's a memory that's so draped in shock and sadness that I thought it best to share with you a Lennon related story that carries a message of hope.

As you may know, there was never a funeral for John Lennon. Instead his wife, Yoko Ono, asked people to pray for him. And she called for Ten Minutes of Silence on the Sunday after John's murder.

At the time, I was a sophomore at Emerson College in Boston. I was deeply moved by John Lennon's murder, and I felt the best place to observe the ten minutes was with thousands of others who felt the same way: at New York's Central Park, just beyond the Dakota Building where the assassin struck.

So, on that sad Sunday morning, I climbed into my buddy Dave's beat up Dodge, and we headed out from Boston to New York City, listening to endless Lennon and Beatles tributes on radio stations all along the way.

When we arrived at 72nd and Central Park West, we were awestruck: a sea of mourners stretched to the horizon on all sides. We worked our way into the middle of the crowd, keeping the looming castle-like Dakota building in sight. From where we stood, it was difficult to see the archway where John was killed.

I remember people shuffling about, holding each other. Six full days after Lennon's murder, people in the world's biggest city were still stunned. And hurt.

My spot in the crowd was diagonally across from the Dakota in Central Park. It was about where the Imagine mosaic is now located. I may not have been able to see the Dakota's archway, but I could see people standing on the roof. Among them, a woman with long black hair wearing a brown fur coat. It was easy to think that it might be Yoko Ono herself, but to this day I'm not sure.

There was no announcement to begin the Ten Minutes of Silence. But we knew it was getting close when the people on the Dakota's roof, quietly in line, slowly took a few steps closer to the edge, facing Central Park. In 1980, in the days before iPods, and Walkmen, portable music was carried around in large ghetto blasters. These were usually equipped with radios. There were hundreds, if not thousands of them in Central Park that afternoon. This meant the sound of competing Lennon and Beatles songs filled the air, creating a musical stew not unlike modern day mixes.

At the moment the Ten Minutes of Silence began, every radio station went dark; every single one of them went off the air. It was a staggering moment. Can you imagine today, any radio station, voluntarily going quiet? I can't.

But it happened for John Lennon. In Central Park.

I wasn't sure what to do, so I closed my eyes, and I prayed. Around me, the only sounds I could hear were the sounds of people weeping, and the sounds of news helicopters recording the event.

Think for a moment how long ten minutes is. Now think of New York City standing still in tribute to a fallen man. It still gives me chills.

The ten minutes were over when all of those radio stations returned to the airwaves. They all came back with the same song: Imagine. I remember hearing the song's indelible opening piano chords coming first from the front of the massive crowd, then floating over my head, and then behind me.

It was over.

But not quite.

Afterwards we walked through Central Park. We found the bandstand where John once filmed his promotional film for Whatever Gets You Thru the Night. It was draped in Christmas bunting. And on the stage, a large black and white photo of John wearing his famous NYC t-shirt. Beautiful.

And as we wandered through Central Park, not sure where we were headed, something else happened.

It snowed. For ten minutes.

Thirty years later, I remember John Lennon's creativity, I marvel at his musical genius, and I still laugh at his Lennonisms. I don't agree with everything he ever said, or all of the causes he espoused. But I admire how he put his heart in everything he did. I believe John Lennon truly wanted to make the world a better place, even if he wasn't sure how to do that, or even what that meant.

Three decades on from that awful December night, I'm also struck by how an entire city, New York City, stood still for ten minutes. It may not have been the world peace that Lennon envisioned, but it was ten minutes of peace. And it happened for a real man, a man who tried to change the world with music.

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