RE-IGNITING THE SPIRIT
With the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy's death, we've once again become fixated by his assassination, partly because of the news media - and partly, I guess, because it's human nature to play and re-play that beyond terrible moment in Dallas when our hearts broke and the whole world grieved...the day when we knew nothing would ever be the same again.
But I watched an interview on CNN conducted by Chris Cuomo with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert Kennedy's eldest daughter, and JFK's niece, that focused not on his death but on his life; not on what ended when he died, but what he ignited when he lived. When asked about JFK's legacy, she said that he gave the country a kind of "spirit" - a kind of courage to do the things that many would simply consider impossible or “just too hard." When in 1961, he declared, "We are going to send a man to the moon and return him safely before the end of this decade," he didn't say we were going totry, he said we were going to do it. And lest there be any doubt about it, he even added by when. He went on to state, "We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard...because this challenge is one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win..."
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend reminded us that it was the Kennedy "spirit" that fueled the creation of the Peace Corps, billed as "the toughest job you'll ever love.” Some senators thought it was a silly, unworkable idea, a “cult of escapism,” a “haven for draft dodgers,” as Richard Nixon put it. But since its creation, over 210,000 young Americans have served in the Peace Corps in over 139 countries. My husband, Jim, was one of them. He spent two years in Thailand, teaching English to Thai children. "It changed me forever," he told me when we first met. I have do doubt that it did.
JFK had, and still has,his critics - some of whom complain even today that he’s unworthy of all this adulation, that he was "all image and no substance" as NYT op-ed contributor, Robert Dallek wrote in his piece on Nov. 21st. called “Kennedy’s Legacy of Inspiration." But Dallek continues, “Such criticism...fails to appreciate the presidency’s central role: to inspire and encourage the country to move forward, a role that Kennedy performed better than any president in modern memory.” Kathleen Kennedy Townsend told Cuomo that on the day of her uncle Jack's funeral when she as a child of 11, her father wrote her a letter. He told her that it would always be important as the oldest child, for her "to go forward and be kind, to take care of your family; don't be angry," he wrote, "don't look for revenge... serve our country.... " And in true Kennedy spirit, the letter didn't include the word,"try." Rather, it was "here's what you must do.” And it was implicit that she must do it not because it was easy... but because it was hard.
Hard things, wrong things, bad things happen - things that shouldn't be “allowed” - by the fates, by God, by the Universe, by whomever or whatever - in just about every country, in just about every life. And “moving forward” for all of us, means letting go of anger, resentment, and self-pity and replacing those feelings with kindness and a recommitment to what we value,
what we stand for, and to making things...better. Now is exactly the right moment to re-ignite that “Kennedy spirit” in ourselves - that optimism and idealism that reminds us that we are here in this particular country, at this particular time to continuously explore new frontiers...and perhaps even reach for the moon. Not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.
For added motivation, take a listen to JFK’s speech http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwFvJog2dMw
Gail Blanke’s Lifedesigns©2013 All Rights Reserved
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