Late for JFK

I’m a day late, but yesterday I was driving downstate to and attending a wedding. And before that I was getting ready to drive downstate and attend a wedding.
I remember that crisp sunny day in November — I was taking my almost year-old daughter out for a walk and got half way up the hill when a neighbor stuck her head out her door and yelled that the president had been shot. “President of what?” I asked, never even considering that it could be “The President.”
I turned around and went back home and spent the rest of the day in front of the television set. I don’t even think it was a color tv back then. This was the second time that the immediacy of television broacasting hit home for me.* I was watching real-time history unfold on a little screen in the corner of my living room. I didn’t have to be there to be there. Reality TV: what a concept!
I remember when JFK was running for president and I was a college student but too young to vote. But a friend of mine wasn’t too young, and I talked him into letting me drive him back to his home town to cast his ballot. (I was too young too vote, but not too young to have a car and a license and a readiness for adventure.)
Yesterday, that friend had this to share:
I still miss jfk. That was driven home to me this day.
I had no intention back then of voting for him. Politics was not in my frame of reference. I was not long out of the army, I was not long back in college at a new school. I was busy studying and playing. But a college friend insisted I had to vote, even drove me from Albany down to Dobbs Ferry and back that election day so I could cast a ballot. But I did it only as a favor. Then after the election, I listened to the Inaugural speech, and for the first time ever and since, a politician touched me. He awoke in me a sense of hope and purpose, convinced me it was my responsibility to reach out to those in need, to speak out against injustice, to try to make a difference. That was his magic, he could do that. His basic drive was to reach out to the world, to try to join hands to make the world and lives everywhere better. “Preemptive war” was not part of his vocabulary or manner. The Peace Corps was, the moon mission was. We were part of the human race, not a country needing to prevail.
When he was shot and killed, I was not long a teacher (in part my reaching out to make a difference)…. And throughout that long, emotionally crushing weekend, as with many others, something drained out of me: this was change we had not anticipated, were not prepared for. Hope and promise were dying. Somehow, we knew things would never again be the same for us. Forces we hadn’t dreamed of took it all away. And we were right. Things never have been the same. It has been a long downhill slide since that weekend. No one could ever measure up to him as an inspiration, as someone who was clearly human (complete with human weaknesses) but who could evoke a sense of meaning — not so much as an American, but as a human being. That was his massiveness: he appealed to our humanity. Tell me another political leader who’s done so since. You can’t because there has been, is, no other.

*The first time was in 1962, when I stood outside the bookstore in graduate school and watched John Glenn turn all of those science fictions stories I constantly devoured into awesome reality.

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