Remembering John F. Kennedy: Friday, November 22, 2013

For the past week, I have been doing a series about the 50th anniversary of a television program. I would be remiss to let today pass by without acknowledging another more important and somber anniversary of an event that occurred 50 years ago today- the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

As the son of the daughter of two Irish Catholics who immigrated to America and moved to the Boston area,
John F. Kennedy has always been a towering mythological figure in my life. Here was this man, who was an Irish Catholic like us, who was born less than 5 miles away from our house; he had become the President of the United States and then died. Streets, schools and parks all over the Boston area were renamed in his honor. Pictures of him were all over my grandparents’ house, including a plate commemorating the lives of John and his brother, Robert. The only other people to get their pictures hung on the wall were either family or Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Once I got a little older, my parents told me that John and Robert hadn’t just died, they had been assassinated. It was this terrible moment in their lives that both of my parents remembered vividly. Now I knew who did it, but not why.

My mother took me to visit the house where he was born, and to the JFK Museum. She showed me a silver Kennedy half-dollar coin in a special case that she got shortly after his death. When my family went on vacation to Washington D.C., we paid our respects at John’s grave with the Eternal Flame.

Recently, my mother gave me my grandmother’s missal. Inside were treasured mementos and mass cards of loved ones, including John Kennedy’s.

The front of  mass card for President Kennedy kept by my grandmother.

The front of a mass card for President Kennedy kept by my grandmother.

The back of a mass card for President Kennedy kept by my grandmother.

The back of the mass card.

Over the years, my interest in John F. Kennedy has never waned. As I learned more about his private conduct I became angry at him, as it tarnished my heroic mental portrait. In the past few years, however, I have come to see him as a man, and his heroic acts, along with the not-so-admirable things made me appreciate him once more. Listening to his speeches and learning more about his policies, I began to admire him once again as a political figure. Seeing his mass card treated so reverently by my grandmother reaffirmed the almost-personal relationship this man had with my family as well as other Catholics.

Yet the big question- why he died- still remains unanswered. As no satisfactory answer has ever been found, it has given me the lifelong feeling that something is not quite right in America.

Now, 50 years on, he’s no longer John F. Kennedy but “JFK,” which has nearly become a proper noun unto itself and shorthand for many other things. Seeing the mass card again this morning reminded me that, in the end, he was just a man. Now, however, I can look back at this tragic day through the lens of a husband and a father. The country lost their President, but a wife sat next to her husband as his life was taken away by evil, and two children lost their father. Today, let us remember the death of a man named John F. Kennedy.