It was Monday, December 8, 1980, a rather balmy day in Baltimore with temps that climbed into the 70’s. I was a junior at what was then Loyola College and we were in the throes of final exams. The next day would determine the fate of my final grade in Marketing Management.
I sat at the kitchen table, engaged in a mental game of chess. “What would Dr. Susan Thomas test us with in just 12 hours?”, I pondered. I pored through notes. Reviewed highlighted lessons from the previous three months and shaped my thoughts in anticipation of the all-important closing essay.
Downstairs, Dad sat alone, watching a Monday Night Football game between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots. It was background noise to me until I heard Howard Cosell mention John Lennon.
“An unspeakable tragedy confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the west side of New York City — the most famous, perhaps, of all the Beatles — shot twice in the back. Rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead on arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that newsflash…”
The announcement cut through the air like an unwelcomed bolt of lightning. And then for a moment the world went silent.
I raced down the steps and looked at my Dad. The expression on my face must have told a story of sorrow and desperation. When our eyes locked Dad simply said, “I’m sorry Tony.”
The scene was surreal. This was nothing more than a bad dream, or so I hoped. After all, John’s charting song at the time, “Starting Over” was rich with enthusiasm featuring a youthful outlook towards the future.
As real replaced surreal, I ventured upstairs into my room, put on my headphones and listened to the sound of John’s incredible vocals over and over until I drifted asleep – a Dream No. 9.
When I awoke, reality reminded me of two things: John’s tragic death and the marketing exam that awaited me. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t muster up the focus to take an important exam. “There would be other marketing exams”, I thought to myself. But there was only one John Lennon – a man who authored a substantive portion of my youth.
I watched the news, hoping for confirmation that the news of John’s passing was somehow mistaken – a confirmation that never came. I sat glued to the TV. I wept. I wished that I could go to New York to mourn with all who gathered outside of John’s apartment building – The Dakota. Hours passed by like minutes. The day was here and gone in a flash and the world seemed so much emptier without John Lennon.
Once again I retreated to the solace of my room where the headphones and John awaited.
The next morning, I awoke to a sobering thought. I had to go see Dr. Thomas and explain to her why I blew off the final. Maybe she would understand. Maybe she would give me a second chance to take the final.
I drove to school and made a beeline to Dr. Thomas’ office, hoping she would be there. Her door was open as she sat behind her desk, somewhat illuminated by her green glass banker’s lamp just to her left. I knocked gently on the door.
“Dr. Thomas, may I have a word?”
As she politely invited me to have a seat I started into my well-prepared alibi for missing the final. Only seconds into the soliloquy that I rehearsed over and over in my head from the shower right up to that knock on her door, Dr. Thomas cut me off.
“Tony, I understand. I’m a big fan of John’s also. Why don’t you come in and take the exam tomorrow?”
I thanked Dr. Thomas profusely and as a way of honoring her thoughtfulness and John’s memory, my preparation for that final was laser focused. Never before or since was I as prepared for a final exam. Eventually, my grade matched my preparedness and I’m sure somewhere, wherever it was that Dr. Thomas graded these encore performances from a semester’s work, she had to have been smiling.
Today, John Lennon would have turned 80. I often wonder what may have happened had he lived. But such thoughts of what could have been are usually short-lived – by design. They just weigh too much. So instead I just focus on what was and on how John affected so many lives in such a positive way.
There are places I’ll remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever, not for better
Some have gone, and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends, I still can recall
Some are dead, and some are living
In my life, I’ve loved them all
John, you haven’t been around for such a long time. Yet in many ways, you’ve never left.
I thank you for that.
And I thank Dr. Thomas too…