While I do intend to make this blog primarily about beer, there are certain occasions that require comment. Today is one such occasion.
As history (or memory) tells us, on November 22, 1963, President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade, sitting next to his wife and sharing the limo with the Governor and first lady of Texas.
He was shot three times at 12:30pm Central Time, being pronounced dead a mere 30 minutes later. At 2:38pm, the United States had a new sworn president in Lyndon B Johnson.
President Kennedy was killed 18 years, 8 months, and 3 days before I was born. This was a man I could never know except from history books, old film, crackly radio. A man who was an enigma to those who shared the planet with his living self, so how could I ever understand.
But I remember my mother telling me the story of where she was when his death was announced. She was 13-years-old and, as many youth, enthralled with this young, charismatic leader. He wasn’t the stodgy old president of the older generation, he was their president. And he was dead.
She said that she cried. She cried for a man who had as many controversies as victories. A man who, it seemed, had politics running through his veins as sure as blood. She would cite him as inspiration in her own (unsuccessful) political run some 40 years after his death.
Who knows what the future would have lead to had he lived. Speculation runs rampant on that subject. The shortness of his life and the fact that he, himself, could not do more to shape the world is much bemoaned.
But to say that his premature death cut short his opportunity to change the world is ignoring the power of memory and the influence of a strong personality.
How many great leaders have talked about how President Kennedy inspired them? How many people in power talk of his legacy in the United States and abroad? How many people, no matter the scope of the project, use the President’s memory to push them towards greatness?
Was President Kennedy perfect? By no measure in any world can that be claimed. However, his connection with American youth, his charm with other state leaders, and his determination to move the country forward, are all traits that made him into our most beloved, our most revered leaders.
Tonight on my drive home, I listened to the late Walter Cronkite‘s remembrance of President Kennedy’s assassination on NPR. I could not help but be stricken by the speed of that day (and how fast it must have felt for those who were there) and the efficiency of all that occurred. A little more than two and a half hours after our President was murdered, we had a new President. By evening, the new President and the Cabinet were already assembled in Washington, ready to continue on in the service of the country.
There are so many images that stick with us – even those too young to truly know. Jackie standing, in her blood-stained pink wool suit, next to LBJ as he is sworn in. The Secret Service agent leaping into the back of the limo as it speeds to the hospital. The sound of the audience’s reaction when the director at the Boston Symphony tells them the news. The sound of that broken note as Taps is played at the President’s funeral. John Jr saluting his father’s casket as it passes. These images, these sounds, fill our collective memory and remind us that the past matters and is so much more real than a tale hastily remembered by grandpa on Thanksgiving night.
I feel reflective tonight as I sip my beer. How would I feel if a president I adored was gunned down? How would I react? I wonder how the 24-hour news cycle has affected our reactions to these tragic events. Would there be the outcry that we hear from that audience? Would the country go into four days of mourning? Are we so far divided, so self-obsessed that we would have no collective reaction? I hope not.
I wish I could change places with my mom. To be there. To have lived a history like that. So many people now have lived through so many historic moments, that we forget that they are Historically Monumental. Those of us who watched in horror on 9/11/2001 will never forget that day – but do we see it as history? Did my mother know that she was a part of history just by living through President Kennedy’s death?
Who knows what might have been if President Kennedy had lived. Who knows what the future brings for us know. I am privileged to live in a country where I can muse on these things openly and with others. Maybe if more of us muse more often, we might come somewhere close to brilliance. Maybe we can continue the legacy of President Kennedy in all of his youth and brilliance and charisma. Maybe we, too, can change the world.