Why the Fire of John F. Kennedy Still Burns in Me

Why the Fire of John F.Kennedy Still Burns in Me

I saved this issue of Life Magazine, published on October 2, 1964. Cost 25 cents

I was sixteen the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. It’s not important where I was. But it is important where I am today and why.

As a high schooler, I didn’t fully understand the impact of the loss. I actually wanted to go to a mixer that night. My mother said no. She was annoyed at the very idea that I would want such a thing. But just two days later, when Ruby shot Oswald, the impact of scary change began to settle over me. It wasn’t yet reaching into the elm-lined streets of my neighborhood, but it was subtly altering my life.

I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it. And the glow from that fire can truly light the world. John F. Kennedy

Time Magazine proclaims this week that the assassination was THE MOMENT THAT CHANGED AMERICA. Yes. But the change was not all about conspiracy theories, loss of faith in our leaders, and a forgetting of the true purpose of the American promise. With Lyndon Johnson as president, our country went on to pass Civil and Voting Rights legislation as well as many laws under his Great Society vision.

In college, I became fully aware of the Supreme Court decisions that were shaping US law and providing equality in education for all citizens. The assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King had an even greater impact on my psyche, as I realized that helping our disadvantaged and struggling citizens was not and probably never will be a universal goal in this country.

As a teacher in a troubled high school and much later as an RN in a Chicago hospital, the fire burned even more brightly in me. One student still calls me on my birthday. Many of my patients let me know they listened to my advice about child rearing and followed it. I am blessed by those I have touched.

As parents, my husband and I used example to again light the fire, help it burn in our children. One daughter’s work and daily life is dedicated to saving the environment; our other daughter teaches creative writing to children of many backgrounds and is raising three children with open minds and loving hearts. Early on our son embraced the fight for gay rights, accepting and helping those who were struggling with prejudice in his conservative high school.

So today, the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death, I thank him and leaders like him for the intelligence, the vigor, and the dedication that in many ways has made ours a great nation. But we still have much to do. Let us abandon the “I’ve got mine” syndrome. Let us step up and let Kennedy’s words echo in our hearts and minds, move us to action: And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. 

Why the Fire of John F.Kennedy Still Burns in Me

This week’s TIME.

Thanks to Google Images and to me for saving the LIFE MAGAZINE issue.



14 thoughts on “Why the Fire of John F. Kennedy Still Burns in Me

  1. The anniversary of this event reminds us to honor the memory or our past with the dignity deserved.
    As was 21, with 2 babies napping, ironing my husbands shirts when the news flashed on the TV screen. I was grateful my girls were sleeping so that I would have time to myself to take in what had happened.
    It was the first time that technology brought something so stunning right into our home.

    • Thanks for sharing this, Pat. We all were stunned and I just cannot help but dream about where the US would be and how life might be different had JFK lived. I know we both have worked hard to raise our children to understand the goals and beliefs that JFK held. And RFK and MLK too. THANKS.

  2. Kennedy’s assassination happened ten years before I was even born. By the time I was a teenager, 23 years had gone by…yet his death reflected a change in society that I especially felt. It was a change that I’ve often felt compelled to write about and it’s a desire in me to try and understand how that one day in history truly changed so much.
    For someone like me, a child that grew up in a society just learning to embrace technology, the 1960’s seem like another lifetime. From the skirts woman mostly wore to the men in charge, the 1960’s started with what seems like a mere dream… a United States that was prospering, where woman stayed home and took care of the kids and Dad came home at 5pm every night. While, I realize life wasn’t necessarily like this for many people, it is still the ideal that I grew up thinking that time was like. Perhaps it was my parents passed than idea onto me, however by the end of the 1960’s that type of life was gone. Woman were becoming more vocal, students were fighting against government and the country was starting an economic decline that haunts us yet again today.
    I often wonder what if Kennedy wasn’t assassinated? Would the country be any different today?
    Of course, what if’s don’t count in life and our reality is here and now. However, this time in history truly fascinates me and provides me with numerous ideas for novels, PhD. thesis’ and ideological debates that will never be won.
    Thank you Beth, for providing me with a wonderful post and a remembrance that this day still affects those in many parts of the world.

    • Thank you Natalie, for sharing your thoughts with Boomer Highway. I think a lot of the changes you refer to were necessary. Whether ANY of them grew out of JFK’s death is hard to say. I think the rise of the women’s movement was linked to laws he set in place and just the realization of all women that things had to change. Unlike most families, I grew up without that father coming home at 5 o’clock. Yet, ironically, my mother was NOT a proponent of feminism (she argued against women making as much as men in the workplace, even though she was our sole provider!) It took me a while to get on board. I need to blog about that! But truly, today is a day to pledge the best for this country, to realize that we all should work together for the common good. Beth

  3. Beth,
    Yes, you are exactly right. My mother was a stay at home mom and she always says it was the best time of her life but she always told us girls that we could be anything we wanted to be and that we should feel that we could be as strong and successful as men.
    Funny enough though, my mother doesn’t consider herself a feminist and she thinks the feminist movement destroyed the family.
    Yet, everyone of us girls, supports ourselves, went to college, and are fairly independent.

    You should write a blog about your mother as the sole provider and how it shaped her ideas on feminism and yours as well. I am the sole provider in my family and I am proud to be so and I always teach my daughter to be proud of herself and believe that she can do anything.

    Today is a great day for remembering our ancestors, what we’ve learned as a society and what we can do to make this world a place for all to grow, love, develop and find peace.

  4. It’s wonderful to read how you and all your family members are answering JFK’s charge to “ask what you can do for your country.” Thanks for being advocates for improving the lives of so many.

    • Thank you, Karen, for commenting. I wish I could do more. I must add my husband is now volunteering and working with the underserved in our community. He’s awesome. Beth

  5. I so agree. I was little, only six, in ’63, but, for me, the event was no where as significant as what the man started. I will not pay attention to the violent end, or conspiracy, or negatives. I try to incorporate the positive. “Ask not what your country can do for you…” Indeed.

    • Thanks so much, Nancy. It is the joining of people with the same goals and ideals that makes us a better nation. And we do it town by town. I appreciate your comment, take care. Beth

  6. I included that same quote in my post because it’s something all Americans need to do. I admire that you also live it and taught it to your kids.

    My family has a long history of military service and I followed in their footsteps… on the medical side. Both my sons have served and one is currently a firefighter/paramedic.

    • Wow, blessings on you and your family. I so admire people who devote themselves to the military. And you were a medic? I admire that even more. Thanks for writing, Kay Lynn. We are all in this together, Beth

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