Friday, November 22, 2013, marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Few individuals alive on that day are unable to recall in poignant detail where they were and what they were doing when the tragic news reached them. The world as a whole was changed. The personal worlds of every American were shaken and altered.
I was in my fifth grade class when the teacher assigned to the next room, who was returning from the main office, walked into our classroom and announced that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. All students were immediately dismissed. I vividly remember running home as fast as I could, crying and feeling terrified because I no longer felt safe.
Over the past year I eagerly read Stephen King’s novel, “11 22 63”, in which the main character is able to go back in time with the goal of stopping Oswald from killing the President. Who hasn’t had fantasies about such a thing since that day 50 years ago? King’s novel suggests that changing history, even with the best of intentions, may fail to produce positive results. King was able to help me relinquish that fantasy from childhood and to focus instead on what I could learn from that day in 1963 to make my life and the world a better place.
The one image throughout the tragic and sad events of the following week that emanated courage and stability for me even as a 10-year-old was Jacqueline Kennedy – from her heroic attempt to help her husband in the convertible as she pulled a Secret Service agent onto the car from the street behind to her defiant refusal to change from her memorable pink Chanel suit smeared with the blood of the President because she wanted everyone to see what had been done “to Jack” to her grace in mourning this loss as she kissed the casket and stood with her children. The trip to Texas was the first time that Mrs. Kennedy left the White House to travel with her husband after the death of their newborn son, Patrick. Her courageous demeanor is a sign of her inner strength and character as it is more difficult to process loss in the face of multiple traumas.
I learned that the role of First Lady is extremely important as a role model, especially to children. Not only did Jacqueline Kennedy exude courage and grace under enormous stress, but she consistently emanated a “presence” equivalent to, but different from, that of her husband. Kennedy himself was aware that the attendance at his speeches doubled when Jackie was present and always encouraged her to accompany him and even to speak.
Jacqueline and John Kennedy modeled partnership under conditions of stress that could easily break many relationships apart. It would behoove us as a nation to foster conditions that nurture the marriage and family relationships of our Presidents in contrast to the tactics employed by warring politicians and the media today. The infidelities that occurred during the Kennedy Administration were, very appropriately, left to the President and the First Lady to sort out between them. Human frailties were present and poor choices were made in their personal lives, but the President and the First Lady continued to love each other, forgive in the face of great pain, and work together to elevate the good for all Americans and the rest of the world. In fact, Mrs. Kennedy continued to wear her wedding ring from JFK throughout the remainder of her life, including during her marriage to Onassis when she wore two wedding bands, and then was buried wearing it. Jacqueline Kennedy’s messages were clear even when no words were uttered. She was the worthy and loyal partner of a great leader.
Resources for Home Study for Residents of Columbus, Georgia
The following texts are available on Amazon: (1) “Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy” by Michael Beschloss and Caroline Kennedy ($39.06 in hardcover); (2) “Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years – Selections from the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum” by The NY Metropolitan Museum of Art, Hamish Bowles, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Rachael Lambert ($20.00 in paperback; $35.77 in hardcover); (3) “Mrs. Kennedy and Me” by Clint Hill and Lisa McCubbin ($12.39 in paperback); and (4) “The Uncommon Wisdom of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: A Portrait in Her Own Words” by Bill Adler ($7.78 hardcover).