We can answer JFK's clarion call this Thanksgiving
For America's Baby Boomers, Thanksgiving season is intimately wrapped in the memories of one visceral, tragic moment in the nation's history. Personally, there is rarely a November that passes without a tinge of nostalgia for an America pre-November 22, 1963.
To my own children and grandchildren, the initials JFK are but a footnote in history. If not entirely meaningless, the Kennedy legacy is certainly bereft of the emotion experienced by those of us who mournfully gathered around black and white TVs and laid a president to rest during those grim days when we should have been anxiously anticipating the arrival of far-flung family and an elaborate feast around a joyous table. A pre-teen at the time, I can yet to this day conjure up the moment in my mind's eye and feel the weight of our communal grief.
John Kennedy — as I think we have learned in the rear view mirror of history — was no saint. His faults were many and have been well documented. His presidency was short-lived (some 1,000 days) and perhaps his accomplishments pale in comparison to the legislative agenda of FDR's New Deal or Johnson's Great Society, or the audacity of Lincoln, Truman or Reagan. Yet the Kennedy magic endures, and his popularity past and present surpasses that of any president who held and left the office.
Why? Why is it that so many Baby Boomers pine for an America that existed before Thanksgiving 1963? What was it about JFK that still now casts its long shadow on this nation and season of giving thanks?
It was perhaps JFK's call to serve the nation and the world that touched me more than anything, personally. Kennedy's inaugural address still rings in my ears each day I contemplate with thanksgiving the opportunity I had to serve my country and my fellow human beings as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Yet, lest I (we) forget, a remarkable exhibit — "High Hopes" — at the Oregon History Museum in Portland recently drove home what few, I contend, would deny was perhaps a high-water mark of that moment in American history. It is why I continue to mourn with each passing Thanksgiving the tenor (or impossibility) of dinner conversations around family feasts that have grown in acrimony and divisiveness.
Yet, as "High Hopes" dares us to take note, Kennedy "reminds Americans of an age when it was possible to believe that politics could speak to society's moral yearnings and be harnessed to its higher aspirations ... (he) reminds us of a time when ... (the) future seemed unbounded, when Americans believed that they could solve hard problems and accomplish bold deeds."
If only this Thanksgiving we could reach across the table with higher aspirations and accomplish bold deeds.
Timothy Rake is a Returned Peace Corps
Volunteer, retired educator and professional translator. He lives in Forest Grove.