Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In Respect of a Great Man

Disclaimer: I have an unabashed obsession with the Kennedys. I forgive their faults and wrong-doings and celebrate their victories. I am totally convinced that they as a family have affected far more good than the individuals have committed wrong.

I think I have a unique perspective on the Kennedys and what they have meant to America and what they continue to stand for. My father was 12 when President Kennedy was killed. My father lived in the Mississippi Delta, which is to say that his mother's family had lived there for generations. He was entrenched in the culture of 1960s racial politics. Of course, to a 12 year-old, it was simply his daily life. President Kennedy was going to integrate the schools, by force if necessary. It was a welcome fight in rural Mississippi. He certainly didn't understand the enormity of the moment that he was experiencing. What he recalls is this -

He was sitting in the bleachers of the gymnasium at school. He must have been adjusting his sneakers because everyone else was already on the gym floor. An announcement came over the PA system, "President Kennedy has been shot and killed today in Dallas, TX." He says that he looked up and saw the gymnasium erupt in applause and cheering and high-fives. Something about the exuberance struck him as wrong, but he was quickly caught up in it. School let out so that the children could go home and celebrate with their families.

He went home with his friend, Thumper who had always been called Thumper, and never by his given name. The boys walked through the back door to find Thumper's mother busy in the kitchen. Thumper rejoiced, "Yeah! Somebody finally got that bastard!" Thumper's mother responded sharply, "That is quite enough, Hamilton." Those are the only words in pseudo-respect for our President that my father heard in the days after.

This really stuck with my father. In his adulthood, he has read every book, seen every documentary and researched primary sources from the President's assassination in broad daylight in one of our nation's largest cities. He is far from a conspiracy theorist. The facts, Ma'am, just the facts. He's my guy Friday.

I spent my teen years which saw the release of Oliver Stone's movie JFK idealizing my father's interest. I imagined him as a great, unheralded detective - the one who would uncover the truth and bring the killer to justice. Quite a romantic vision.

I joined in the quest. I wrote essays and exploratory letters to the Library of Congress. I urged my dad to do the same. I was JUST SURE that the secret files would be opened to the 2 of us if we could just reach the right person - the sympathetic ear of a lowly archivist who shared the passion. I was a moron.

In my adult years, I have educated myself about the history of the Kennedy family. I have acquainted myself with the ins and outs of individuals, and joined the causes of the ones who shone. I have taken days from work to mourn the crash of JFK Jr., and his beautiful wife and the passing of his mythical mother. Just recently I have reached out to a virtual stranger for comfort in the death of President Kennedy's sister, Mrs. Shriver. I asked her for and got affirmation that yes, there are people in America that remember and revere the golden days of Camelot and what could have been.

And now Senator Kennedy has passed, peacefully, as I understand it. For that I am grateful. Our nation today has lost a great man, the ultimate citizen, a lion of a statesman - one who took and held close and defended unapologetically stances that were not entirely popular. He did it with grace and composure and respect. On NPR this afternoon, I heard Senator Kennedy's biographer say something very close to this - "If you asked all 100 Senators who the toughest legislator in the Senate is, 99 of them would say, 'Senator Kennedy." He went on to say that Senator Kennedy, who comes from the most charismatic family in United States political history, managed to be boring. "And that is a good thing."

The biographer related a story from Senator Kennedy's first campaign. He was seeking to fill his newly elected brother's vacant seat in the Senate. A poor farmer came up to him after a speech and said something like, "What do you know? You've never worked a day in your life." And the then, Mr. Kennedy replied, "Well, yes, I guess you could say that." The farmer shook his hand and said, "You're not missing a thing."

Our nation has lost a great man. And our community of Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered kin has lost a friend and great ally. I am truly grieved.

Senator Kennedy will lie in repose in the Kennedy Library until he is laid to rest on Saturday in Arlington National Cemetery where he will join his brothers who went before.

I imagine that the Eternal Flame will burn ever brighter.



  1. That was a beautiful post. A beautiful tribute.

  2. It is truly a sad thing. I haven't done much research on the Kennedy family and didn't realize how happy people were at JFKs assisnation. How horriable people can be.