Thursday, November 21, 2013

Remembering Kennedy


You didn't have to be American to have felt the after-effects of the assassination of President Kennedy.

I was only 10 months old at the time; I do not recall the day it happened of course.  But I recall the aftermath.  My parents were young and idealistic - for they and their friends, there were many dinner party conversations that revolved around "Where were you when you heard Kennedy was shot?"  I never really understood that feeling until September 11th, 2001.

There are greater minds than mine that can explain the resonance that that act of terrible violence had upon America's psyche.  The death of hope, the death of dreams, the birth of an unsettled time in American history.

All of these are true, I guess, in their own way.  But they are not the truth.  The truth is more complex and more personal I think.


There is a certain thing that happens when one dies tragically young.  They are forever young and beautiful and in your mind, you are often frozen in that time with them.  There are no pictures of an old chubby President Kennedy, just as there are sadly no pictures of an old Bobby Kennedy or an old JFK Jr.


JFK was not a perfect president, nor was he a perfect man; the historians have made that abundantly clear.  But there were areas where he acted with great integrity and great honour.  There were areas where he fired our imaginations to dream bigger and dream equally.  There was a promise of something more and that promise was struck down on that fateful day in Dallas.

Kennedy ended his inaugural speech on January 20th, 1963 with the following words:

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.

The history of JFK (and of Bobby and even of JFK Jr.) is really the history of the great "what if" - what if the shot had not met its intended target?  What if?

Much has been made of the defining image of John-John saluting his father's casket going by.

But I am often struck by the funeral cortege itself, the rider-less horse....



 and Bobby and Jackie and Teddy walking behind, followed by other dignitaries.



It touches me because I believe that the American people, and many other people from across the world, walked behind that funeral cortege in spirit on that day as well.  And they have been walking behind it ever since.

A Man May Die,
nations may rise and fall,
but an idea lives on

John Fitzgerald Kennedy



UPDATE:

I have just heard that beginning at 1:40 EST, CBS.COM will be livestreaming the 4 days of coverage of Kennedy's assassination and events leading up to and including the funeral in real time, as it appeared on TV during those 4 days 50 years ago.

Those interested can check it out here.
 

28 comments:

  1. I was walking home from school after it was announced that President Kennedy had been assassinated. I cannot seem to remember why it would be announced in a Canadian school but that is what happened. It frightened us all. How could someone so popular who led one of the largest democracies in the world get shot and killed? I felt sad and vulnerable at the same time.

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    1. Isn't that interesting! It must have really impacted your principal to go on the school's intercom to share that! I think that's how so many children feel when these terrible events happen - and adults, too.

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  2. If you ever get a chance to see the JFK Library in Boston, go, it is so worth it. I'll do a post on it soon, I am so glad we saw it. Such wonderful exhibits and how JFK dealt with the Cuban Missile Crisis was pretty incredible.

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    1. That has always been on my list - I drove by it a couple of years ago when we were heading out in that direction for a Tony Bennett concert, but we didn't have time to stop. I saw a bit of it on TV when Teddy passed, and it looks amazing.

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  3. This is so sad and beautiful, Wendy. I'm choking back tears.

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  4. What a beautifully written post, Wendy!

    I was in the fifth grade, the same year the Beatles were first on the Ed Sullivan Show. We were rounded up and put on our buses early as the president had been shot-- we were not told he had died. Of course, it was assumed our mothers would be home; no one called home of course. I remember it was my first real inkling that terrible things could and do happen, that the world you knew could rupture.

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  5. Oh, I used to see J JR. at the gym when he was in college when I was a resident. Yup, he was...

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    1. I don't think I ever got over JFK Jr.s death - _ I have always felt so sad for Caroline - what a lot of losses...And I cried all through Teddy's funeral. I loved Teddy.

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    2. I ran into him and Darryl Hannah in a bookstore in Colorado once. I thought his death was very sad, on top of so much loss in that family already, and he was just starting out.

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  6. I think the most thought-provoking part of Kennedy's dad is wondering what might have been. The course of American politics war economy all sorts of things had been different had he lived. I'm so glad Caroline is our new Japanese ambassador continuing her family's tradition of service.

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    1. It truly is an unparalleled family in terms of public service, likely only rivalled, to a lesser extent, by the Bush Family.

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  7. Whoops I meant Kennedy's death. Darn voice function

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  8. As a child I would fantasize about a world in which John F. Kennedy had not been killed on that day but had lived on and continued to lead. My Grandmother is an Irish-American (and looks so much like Ted Kennedy, well the female version) and she always spoke about it and was devastated. She couldn't stand anyone saying anything negative about her country or her Kennedy Family.

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    1. I know! We had family in Boston and New England for Maritimers is still the Boston States and people thought of him as our President. Beaverbrook even got him to come speak here at UNB when he was a young senator on the move...He then had a bust cast of Kennedy after he was assassinated that was displayed downtown for many years and is now up on Campus. It really is the great what if...

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  9. My mom remembers - she had been in school. And how sad that so many saw this, and then 9/11. I pray for the future children.

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  10. Such haunting footage of the news....the Trademart lunch...people confused and not sure what to do or where to go, Cronkite's reporting. Fascinating too that photographers had to try and develop their film as quickly as they could using dark rooms.

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    1. It is quite interesting and shocking almost, isn't it? And all the newsman running around with cigarettes in hand!

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  11. We have been in Dallas and we have visited the "Kennedy" museum and other things around... I have read many books about this... I pushed to read books about Marilyn death... And yes, how could I forget 9/11... We just came back from America...

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    1. I have to visit Texas, for so many reasons and this is one of them. It is so shocking

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  12. I do believe we Americans sometimes put ourselves "above" others and then when faced with reality...yes we too suffer assassinations, acts of God, and acts of terrorism...we have a very difficult time moving forward and moving on. The enamor with the Kennedy's somewhat bewilders me. I for one hate nepotism in politics. That being said it truly was a loss of innocence for the American people and a great tragedy for any family to have to endure.

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  13. What a great photo of them at the top, really wind wishing, they were so unselfconscious weren't they?

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    1. That easy glamour that cannot be faked!

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  14. Like a great many people I remember exactly where I was when I heard that Kennedy had been fatally shot. I was home from art school for the weekend, standing in my parents' kitchen with my back to the wireless, an American cream Bakerlite (quite a collectors' item now!). I recall my feelings of shock and distress. I have had a clear opinion on American gun laws ever since.
    There are many programmes on British t.v. at the moment about the Kennedy dynasty. Quite the most fascinating one was called, 'JFK's Secret Killer: The Evidence' which put forward the theory that the third shot was accidental and came from security traveling in the car behind. It seemed very compelling - catch it if you can.

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    1. So interesting! I have noticed that one, but will look for it for sure!

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