Inspiration and Devastation
A Tribute to President John F. Kennedy
I was eleven years old when JFK was brutally taken from us so unexpectedly that his death shattered us emotionally as individuals and as a nation. For me, the pain has never completely abated; the psychic wound has never completely healed. All these decades later, the tears still swell whenever I view footage of the President, most especially that poignant moment, when about to depart Ireland, he bid farewell to the land of his ancestors by reciting haunting lines from a poem, concluding with the words, “Well, I’m going to come back to see Old Shannon’s face again.” Dreadful destiny, beyond the poor power of man to halt, as we are reminded in the Greek tragedies of old, robbed the President of fulfilling his fond wish.
In the intervening years, JFK’s words and deeds have lived on in my memory and in my soul. As a father, I have repeatedly shared with my children the enduring power of his eloquence and his lofty ideals. From his stirring Inaugural Address to his sobering response to the Cuban Missile Crisis; from his inspiring speech about America’s bold commitment to explore the wonders of space, to his urgent moral call for action on civil rights; and from his clarion call on behalf of freedom at the Berlin wall to his hopeful speech at American University that reminded humanity of our “most common basic link…that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. And we are all mortal.”
As a journalist, I have quoted President Kennedy’s words frequently. As a teacher, I have sought to instill in my students the idealism embodied by the President: the quest for excellence in all endeavors, regardless of the difficulties; the necessity of dedicating ourselves to causes bigger than ourselves; the imperative of sacrificing for the common good of our country.
John F. Kennedy will forever be a beacon of hope for peoples of all nations who aspire to the amelioration of suffering, the relentless pursuit of world peace, and the noble cultivation of what is the very best of the human spirit.
That, I believe, is JFK’s enduring legacy. As Ted Sorenson so aptly concluded in his book Kennedy, “All of us are better for having lived in the days of Kennedy.”
This was originally posted on November 22, 2013