Monday, September 5, 2016

I don't know, but I've been told



-------------------------------- [excerpt, The Kennedy Half-Century] ------------------------ Senator Kennedy later asked the president for his backing in raising an endowment for the JFK Library.  ...Pres. Reagan took a personal interest and agreed to speak at an event on June 24, 1985, at Ted Kennedy's McLean, Virginia, home.  It became the site of Reagan's most moving tribute to JFK:




[excerpts, Reagan speech] -- It is a matter of pride to me that so many men and women who were inspired by his bracing vision and moved by his call to "ask not," serve now in the White House doing the business of government. 


Which is not to say I supported John Kennedy when he ran for president; I didn't.  I was for the other fellow.  But you know, it's true, when the battle's over and the ground is cooled, well, it's then that you see the opposing general's valor.






He would have understood.  He was fiercely, happily partisan.  And his political fights were tough -- no quarter asked, none given.  But he gave as good as he got.  And you could see that he loved the battle.






Everything we saw him do seemed to betray a huge enjoyment of life. 


He seemed to grasp from the beginning that life is one fast-moving train, and you have to jump aboard and hold on to your hat and relish the sweep of the wind as it rushes by. 


You have to enjoy the journey; it's unthankful not to . . .






And when he died, when that comet disappeared over the continent, a whole nation grieved and would not forget. 


A tailor in New York put up a sign on the door:  "Closed because of a death in the family." 


The sadness was not confined to us.  "They cried the rain down that night," said a journalist in Europe. 


They put his picture up in huts in Brazil and tents in the Congo, in offices in Dublin and Warsaw. 


That was some of what he did for his country, for when they honored him they were honoring someone essentially, quintessentially, completely American. 


When they honored John Kennedy, they honored the nation whose virtues, genius, and contradictions he so fully reflected.






May men are great, but few capture the imagination and the spirit of the times. 


The ones who do are unforgettable. 


Four administrations have passed since John Kennedy's death; five presidents have occupied the Oval Office, and I feel sure that each of them thought of John Kennedy now and then and his thousand days in the White House.






And sometimes I want to say to those who are still in school and who sometimes think that history is a dry thing that lives in a book:  Nothing is ever lost in that great house; some music plays on.







I've even been told that late at night when the clouds are still, and the moon is high, you can just about hear the sound of certain memories brushing by. 


You can almost hear, if you listen close, the whir of a wheelchair rolling by and the sound of a voice calling out, "And another thing, Eleanor!"





Turn down a hall and you hear the brisk strut of a fellow saying, "Bully!  Absolutely ripping!"







Walk softly, now, and you're drawn to the soft notes of a piano and a brilliant gathering in the East Room where a crowd surrounds a bright young president who is full of hope and laughter.





I don't know if this is true, but it's a story I've been told.  And it's not a bad one because it reminds us that history is a living thing that never dies.  A life given in service to one's country is a living thing that never dies -- a life given in service, yes.


History is not only made by people; it is people.  And so, history is, as young John Kennedy demonstrated, as heroic as you want it to be, as heroic as you are.





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