Ask Not

TIME AND OTHER NONSENSE

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January 20th is Inauguration Day, the day an elected U.S. president is sworn into duty. This year was the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address. I don’t remember this speech, considering I was eight years old when he delivered it. I do recall very well the day he was assassinated. I was ten years old by that time and more cognizant of the world. I remember my teacher crying as the principal of the school announced over the loudspeaker that the president had been shot. I walked home after school as always, and saw my older sister crying as she caught up with me on the sidewalk. I remember saying, ‘we didn’t even know him, why are you crying?’ and her reply ‘you are too young to understand.’

It was clearly the end of an era, the end of Camelot, the end of innocence for an entire generation. JFK wasn’t a perfect president. In fact, with the Cuban missile crisis, we almost went to war. But his most important words live on, and instruct us well if we care to listen and learn. “Ask not what your country can do for you,” he said. “Ask what you can do for your country.” Our new era of individual liberties, self obsessions, and demands for instant gratification overshadow any sense that the common good should even be considered. His words sound almost quaint in today’s context.

But there was a time when individuals put aside their parochial concerns and turned their minds to greater ideals. This passage from my novel PERSEPHONE IN HELL brings back Glory’s memories of the moon landing.

“…it was the event of a lifetime, of a hundred thousand lifetimes. It was July 20th in the year 1969 – the first time ever in the history of humankind that a man would walk on the moon.

The Apollo 11 lunar module. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins. They were the talk of every conversation, the images behind every thought, everybody’s greatest heroes. The Eagle has landed, Armstrong said. That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind. A human footprint on the surface of the moon, an inconceivable fete. Of course no one could think of anything else.

Perhaps it was the end of an era, the end of time as we know it, of a time when people had limits and old ways and weights placed on them so they could barely move forward. So even the brightest and best could only inch ahead.

Or maybe it was the beginning of time, a time of anti gravity, of breaking free from the old constraints, of leaping lightness, of acceptance and tolerance for new ideas.”

Though I was only a child when President Kennedy lived, I remember the pride and passion that he inspired people to feel for their country. Not in a bullying ‘we are the greatest’ way. Not in a phony ‘love it or leave it’ way. But with respect and pride for the incredible accomplishments of the day, and hope for a better future. That is the legacy that President Kennedy left us. That is the part about him that I will always remember.

 

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