“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”
John F. Kennedy
During this month in 1917, John F. Kennedy was born – one hundred remarkable years ago. It was truly a different time. Women could not yet vote. The U.S. had just been drawn into a World War (the first). Russia was experiencing its Communist Revolution. The best selling car of the time was Ford’s Model T. The flu pandemic that ultimately killed over 20 million was spreading across the world. Mary and Jack Pickford won the acting Academy Awards in its fourth year, and presciently, The Little American won the award for best picture.
I was in the first grade when JFK was elected. I (would have) voted for Nixon, echoing my father’s opinion that Kennedy did not have enough life experience. Ironically, I ultimately did vote for Nixon when I turned 18 in 1972, a fact I soon and have long regretted.
Kennedy’s election came at a turning point in history. The Baby Boom generation was coming of age and his vision inspired them to believe in ideals and in change in ways that their more conformist parents did not, bearing their childhood memories of the Great Depression.
Some of that optimism suffered when Kennedy was shot three years later. While he had experienced mixed results in foreign affairs, he had set the country on a path toward equal rights for all races. He has even set our sights on the moon itself.
There are events in life when you remember where you were when they happened. Shuttle disasters, September 11th, and even Elvis Presley’s (alleged) death come to mind.
The first such occasion for me was November 22, 1963. I was in Mrs. Wilson’s third grade class when the Principal made a cryptic announcement over the loud speaker. Word of the shooting began to spread and we saw Mrs. Wilson cry, which left us confused and disturbed. As the afternoon passed, the school office placed its microphone next to its radio, and we heard the news as it transpired. There was no school the next day, but everyone’s shock dampened any joy we might have had.
A reporter who followed in his father’s path asked his dad on his 75th birthday if writing about JFK’s death was his favorite story. “No,” he said, “It stunk.” As a lawyer, I can also say that having to do my job on days when the outcome was unfair and stunk in the same sense, even if my client won as a result.
The first unforgettable event for my children was the explosion of the space shuttle. When I learned of the disaster, I went home to be with my young daughter. I sat down with her and asked what she had heard. She replied, The space ship blew up and all the people cried.” With young children, it is important to explain things at a level they can understand. I could not have said it better.
When JFK took office he was as far off in time from Teddy Roosevelt as we are now from Kennedy’s time. Much has changed for us, and change itself has become our norm. The key now, as it was then, is to know yourself and to live expectantly.