I fly in and out of Dallas from its originally airport, Love Field -- where President Kenndy''s Air Force One landed and departed on his deadly visit here in November 1963.
I was 26 months old. A year younger than the President's son.
I don't remember the assassination itself, but watching the funeral on TV is my first real memory.
My mother had taken us to visit her dear friend, Pat Regan, at her tiny Cape in downtown Old Saybrook, CT.
Pat had all the shades pulled down in her living room, creating a deep gloom around her black and white TV. She and my mother sat at the kitchen table just outside the doorway to the room, where they could keep an eye on where they allowed me to sit, transfixed, before the ghostly, flickering screen. The gray images were vague and shifting -- more dream than reality.
The dark, riderless horse with its backward facing boot is the image most lodged in my memory. John John's sad, obedient salute. And my mother and Pat crying behind me. I didn't understand then what had happened, but I knew it was very sad and ran to hug and be held by my mom.
It didn't take me long to understand. My generation was raised in the shadow of political assassinations. Within four years, four of our progressive leaders -- those trying to transition us from the World War II generation to a new era in which our nation might build its own equity across race and gender and spread its immense prosperity to create global equity as well -- were gunned down. Malcolm X (1965). Martin Luther King, Jr. (1968). And Bobby Kennedy (1968).
The second Kennnedy death sent progressivism reeling -- not knocked out, for the anti-war and feminist and desegregation and gay liberation movements continued. We have continued slowly on our evolutionary path to consciousness as human beings. But our leadership was significantly derailed and has yet to fully recover.
Rather than a President encouraging our leadership and engagement and philanthropy and giving voice to hope -- "The American people expect more from us...For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do..." -- we got a President who resigned before he could be impeached for obstruction of justice around criminal attempts to influence an election in his favor. That was in the 1970s, yet today we find ourselves in an oddly deja vu situation, with a "mob boss" style President fearful that if held accountable for his dishonest tactics then the legitimacy of his presidency will be in question. As it is and should be.
"History, after all, is the memory of a nation." -- President John F. Kennedy
It is Easter weekend and the beginning of Passover. The memory of our nation has much for which to seek reconciliation and to make amends. When will we give up our addiction to those who will lie, bully, and strong arm voters to maintain their power and move fully and joyously toward these different values?
The memory of our nation is one of white brutality. One cannot travel across these beautiful prairies without mourning the wanton destruction of its native inhabitants. The U.S. Army used "total warfare" to wipe out the tribes, their horses, and their sacred sustenance: the buffalo. "Total warfare" included the use of many tactics that would be prosecuted as war crimes today, from dawn raids on sleeping villages of non-combatants to the decimation of food sources to starve entire peoples.
Kennedy was no saint. He, too, was a child of privilege and he, too, felt entitled to use his privilege to his advantage.
Yet at the same time he also understood his privilege as a duty to make the world more fair and prosperous for others. He made plenty of mistakes in this work -- seeing Communists everywhere as the enemy and engaging U.S. Troops accordingly, for instance -- but his enduring legacy is to ask each of us, and especially America's young people, to ask "not what your country can do for you, ask what you an do for your country...ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."