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2000-12-08 - 23:52:44

Here, There and Everywhere

So this was the day John Lennon died.

I was 4 years old at the time. My earliest memories are of my grandfather walking up the street with my to the A&P supermarket near my house and buying me Barnum's Animal Crackers, then taking me to the beach in Sea Bright where we'd sit along the wall separating the parking lot from the beach and look out at the ocean. But I can't put a date on it; it's something that happened several times.

For some reason, I have a vague vision of Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter getting on the helicopter as they left the White House, which would've been in January 1981, and the earliest memory I can put a date on.

But I don't remember John Lennon being shot. Nor Ronald Reagan, for that matter.

I don't know when I discovered the Beatles, exactly. It may have been in 7th or 8th grade, or early high school even, when my friend Will -- a music junkie -- began listening to them more and more, and got me hooked. But my interest has continued, because I'm a fan of good music -- lyrics, especially, being a writer.

I've never considered myself a die-hard fan, though. But today I felt an urge to go to Strawberry Fields, that small little corner of Central Park across Central Park West from The Dakota, where John Lennon lived and where he was coming home to when he was shot.

It was a cold day in the east, and as I rode the train north from the Jersey Shore, the day got grayer. Just before pulling into Newark, I noticed the snow. Standing on the platform in Newark waiting for my connecting train to Manhattan, the snow floats through the open roof onto the tracks as Christmas carols drifts softly over the sound system.

In New York I take the E train up 8th Avenue and get out at 72nd Street and cross over to Central Park, where at 11:30 a.m. a modest crowd has already gathered. Television news vans line the street and cameras are already rolling in the park. The IMAGINE mosaic -- a circlular memorial in the sidewalk at the intersection of three paths in the park -- is surrounded by maybe two dozen people, the innermost of whom were seated around the candles, flowers and photos placed over the mosaic.

A brisk wind blows throughout the morning and early afternoon, but aside from one man playing a guitar without gloves, no one complains, and his case is understandable. People sit on the benches, melting away the thin layer of snow that has begun to cover them and take in the scene. Many people sing along with the two guys playing guitar and another on bongo drums. When I first arrive, they are singing along with "Let It Be," coming live over the radio from Q104.3.

I stand off to the side, taking in the scene for a few moments before taking out my camera. I sometimes hesitate at photographing people in intimate or solemn moments, but I soon realize that nobody here is going to complain about anything today. I shoot crowd shots with my wide-angle lens, and step back across the grass to get the trees and buildings across the street -- particularly The Dakota -- into the background. I find a break in the crowd when I can catch a view of the mosaic and crouch low to include that color in the foreground with the human element surrounding it. If I had the capability and knowledge to scan and post photos, I'd show you some. Perhaps someday.

Later I put the zoom lens on my camera and catch on film the faces of some of the people who have come out to pay their respects. Baby boomers with vivid memories of the Beatles and this day 20 years ago mix with men and women, boys and girls younger than me, who only know John Lennon from cassettes and CDs, videos and movies. I shoot the faces of the people unassumingly, a bit voyeristic some may think, but the best way to get people's true emotions.

Candles burn on the ground, arranged to spell J-O-H-N, and one man joins the crowd with shoulder-length sandy-colored hair, wire rimmed glasses and sideburns past his ears. It's as if 20 years has not passed.

But for some reason, I stay to the outside. I feel as if I'm not a part of it, that this isn't for me, that it isn't my crowd. I don't really have a crowd, but I don't feel an immediate connection to these people, or this place. I have a feeling that if I intrude, if I take a wrong step, I'll disrupt their celebration of John Lennon's life.

I know this is not the case. I know people walk around handing out candles and photos, hugging perfect strangers and crying in the arms of men and women they do not yet know the names of. But something's missing for me.

I came today partly because of the significance of the anniversary -- the 20th, an even, round number, something that always gets noticed in our society. I've visited Strawberry Fields twice before, on random, nothing-about-them summer days, but had no idea what goes on during these anniversaries -- today and October 9, John Lennon's birthday. I read an article about this year's October gathering -- the 60th anniversary of his birth (another round number) -- and decided that I would make the trip myself on this day.

When a Daily News reporter approaches me and asks for my thoughts, I tell her I came because of the significance of the anniversary, that the 20 years has pulled me in (see, it got me too). I describe myself as a "casual Beatles fan," and an avid history buff, someone who enjoys tracking down historical sites and times, visiting them and trying to understand their significance. That's another reason I came. (And for once, it was fun to be the interviewee instead of the interviewer. I spoke slowly and deliberately, making her job of transcribing what I said easier. I'll have to check the paper tomorrow to see if I made her story.)

And after she left, I stay for maybe another hour, until about 1 p.m. or so. Despite all the warmth coming from the people gathered at Strawberry Fields, the wind and the cold begin to affect me, and I feel the need to move on. I cross back over Central Park West and see a small crowd on 72nd Street by The Dakota. A poster with a message, a photo and flowers has been attached to a railing and people are beginning to pose for pictures before heading across the street.

I hop a train downtown to Rockefeller Center to grab lunch before coming home in order to get to work tonight. I listen more to Q104.3, celebrating John Lennon and the Beatles with a live broadcast from the Hard Rock Cafe and a remote from Strawberry Fields. But I turn it off before getting there, because for some reason I still don't feel it.

And all of a sudden, I do now. In retrospect, I can understand what I saw today. Looking back, the faces seem clearer -- Why didn't I get a picture of that woman with the candles and the flowers? Why didn't I talk to more people? Why did I have to leave so soon? While standing there in Strawberry Fields, I was inspired to take pictures, to be able to look back and remember the day in the future. But I had no inclination to write in my notebook, to jot down my thoughts and feelings at the moment, at the site, as I so often do. Looking back on my notes since I've started the practice, I am reminded of those places so vividly -- exactly as I am with a clear photograph. I'll remember the feeling of standing at Strawberry Fields as much from reading my words as I will from viewing my photographs.

And I was hoping to feel John Lennon there. It may sound crazy, or cheesy, or hokey to some, but a lot of people know what I'm talking about. I felt it at Graceland, that while walking through the house, I might stumble across Elvis Presley in the next room. I felt it at Arlington National Cemetery, that John F. Kennedy is not far away, that the Challenger astronauts (there's a memorial) are forever in space, looking down on beautiful Earth. And I expected to feel John Lennon there with us in Strawberry Fields. I didn't.

But I do now. I know he was there, I know it from remembering the people's faces, from seeing the effect he had on those who remembered him, and those -- like me -- who have no recollection that does not involve television.

So it wasn't Instant Karma for me. I didn't have any revelations standing in the early December snow flurries of Central Park. I didn't come away from there with an overwhelming sense of peace or calmness. I guess I was trying to take it all in, perhaps too much. I was too worried about understanding it all, seeing it all, and I forgot to let it happen.

I didn't let it be.

But in the end, it's OK. I learned from it, and I do have a sense of peace from it now. Part of that comes from reading a young woman's diary, Sharon's. I don't know her, but we missed one another by minutes. She felt what I was looking for, what I thought I might find there.

And if I didn't feel it today, at that moment, at that site, it's comforting to know that she did.

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