26 December 2013

Nov 2013 - Remembering JFK 11/22/1963

Sorry I'm a little behind, but catching up quickly.

Do you remember where you were when you heard that JFK died?

I was in 6th grade when Richard Nixon and John (often called Jack) F. Kennedy ran against each other for President of the United States. I remember in Civics class we learned about our government processes, checks and balances, and elections. Our class watched TV, read newspapers, and discussed issues to learn which might be the best candidate. A big part of the debate amongst our parents and the media brewed around the fact that JFK was the first Irish man and Catholic to run for the office of President of the United States.

My grandparents had immigrated from England and were Episcopalians. I was baptized in that church in Chicago, Illinois. Later we moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where the neighborhood church was Presbyterian. I was confirmed in that church. Friends in my school were Catholic and I would sometimes go to church with them out of curiosity to see what it was like. The theory of "do unto others" wasn't different than my own church--just more adornment on the walls and more pomp and circumstance during services. I also had Jewish schoolmates who invited me over for Kosher meals and holidays like Hanukkah. Later and during the time of this election we lived in Michigan. The closest church was a Lutheran church and I was re-confirmed there.

I found ALL the religions I had experienced interesting, each with their own traditions, but with the same human goodness values. I did not find the differences controversial. It seemed then and now that they were not separate entities, but parts of an integrated society with slightly different traditions and customs. Many parts making a whole. After all, our Constitution and Bill of Rights espoused "freedom of religion" and "all men are created equal." At that naive point in time I thought it was true. It seems now that everyone thinks their own religion is the "right" one and everyone else is condemned to eternal H-E-double-hockey-sticks, no matter how goodly or Godly you lead your life.

After our studies in class, we took a straw poll. I voted for JFK, but he did not win our classroom vote. I was very happy, however, when JFK won the actual election as America's first Catholic (and youngest at 43 years old) President. Looking back he was not the best ever President. Hey, nobody is perfect, but he did good things--he stressed more public service by citizens, established the Peace Corps, set a goal to put a man on the moon, laid the groundwork for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and avoided nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crises. 

Fast forward three years later - November 22, 1963 (fifty years ago today). I was in English class. One day a week English was dedicated to penmanship (perfecting our cursive handwriting). The squawk of the loud speaker started at a very odd time of day, I thought. The principal announced that JFK had been wounded in Dallas, Texas, and was on his way to the hospital. A bit later it was announced that he was dead. We were allowed to go home early. Most unbelieving and many in tears, like myself. We did not know this man personally, but we had learned to love him and his young family through seeing them on television. They seemed bigger than life, so happy. They were a "Camelot" family, as their time was latter dubbed.

The next few days, were so sad and dark for our nation. TV covered every aspect of the horrific assassination by Lee Harvey Oswald, Oswald's murder by Jack Ruby, the details leading up to the funeral, and the elaborate funeral itself. Lines were two miles long to view the flag draped coffin, young daughter Caroline kissed that coffin, even younger son John saluted that coffin as it wheeled by in the horse drawn caisson, the eternal flame glowed at his grave site. So unreal, yet so very real.

Where were you when JFK died?

I don't remember where I was when Princess Di died, but I do remember intently watching the news in the days after and her funeral. She is another world figure that will never be forgotten. So beautiful and full of dignity, soul and goodness.

My United Airlines teacher friend, Kailani, had taught classes to our employees in London. She was heartbroken over this news and traveled back to London to stand outside the tall black Buckingham Palace fence. I asked her to buy some flowers from me to lay with so many others along that fence. She did so. Even though I wasn't actually there, I felt I had a little personal connection to yet another sorrowful situation. As I watched the news, I wondered which flowers might be mine.

Two others that always come to mind when I think of JFK, are RFK and MLK. May they all rest in peace.

(The photo of JFK was downloaded form Wikipedia and is the work of an employee of the Executive Office of the President of the United States, taken as part of that person's official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain.)

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