Margaret's Musings: Ask not...
In Wisconsin it was most likely a gray November day, the weather is not what I remember. As an 11-year-old, I remember the trembling voice that announced our president had been shot. I was in sixth grade and initially, we did not know if he was fatally wounded.
This week, the 49th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's assassination, falls on Thanksgiving.
For most people born before 1955, this remains a day they will never forget. I remember watching his funeral procession on a scratchy black and white television. The weather that day fit the mood of the nation, somber, gray and depressed.
Senator Kennedy came to our little town in southern Wisconsin when he was campaigning for president. Even younger then, I recall he was in a parade and it was his smile and striking image that stuck with me as well as most of the folks that lined the route. Too young to know anything about politics other than the importance of voting, his book "Profiles in Courage" found its way into our home. After his death a photo book called "The Torch is Passed 1964" arrived in the mail. I discovered recently that this book, which I poured over countless times, was compiled by the Associated Press. It recorded history for a young girl who studied the photos carefully. Perhaps it was my first "serious" look at a work of photojournalism.
Beyond the mystique of the Kennedy years, short as they were, most remember this line in particular from his inauguration speech.
"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you --ask what you can do for your country."
The next line was,
"My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."
Both seem particular relevant over 50 years later.
I checked with a friend of mine, whose birthday is actually Nov. 22. A bit younger than myself, she was eight and living in Florida at the time.
She remembers being told in school, and that her party was delayed and everyone was sad at that time.
"It is one of those days, that everybody remembers where they were and what they were doing." To this day she hears from classmates from who remember not only her birthday but the significance the date has in history and they think about the impact Kennedy's death had on our nation.
Kennedy's speech was relatively short, just over 1,300 words. Yet, it offered the nation hope. With today's technology, take a trip to the www.jfklibrary.org and you can listen to nearly all of his speeches. I would recommend you listen to his inaugural speech. It offers as much wisdom today as it did on Jan. 20, 1961.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, an original American holiday, I hope we can look across the table to our friends and relatives and truly give thanks for the gifts we have. Especially those bestowed upon us by the virtue of being citizens of the United States of America. Citizens who have the right to vote.
Over the course of the last six months, I have met an assortment of people, all of them immigrants to this country of ours. The first one who has permanent residence status was from Mexico. The day I met him he had just found out his application for citizenship had been turned down for a second time. His mother's family fled to Mexico from Nazi Germany. When asked why citizenship was so important to him, he emphatically declared it was because he wanted the right to vote. A few weeks later I met a young woman from China on a flight back from Florida. Taking a chance I decided to see if she would engage in a conversation which is rare today. I broke the ice by asking if she wanted to read our Declaration of Independence since our day of travel was July 4. Her response surprised me.
"We studied and learned all about it in school (in China)." She was a professional, an engineer who lived and worked in the Twin Cities. We talked about China and the coming challenges facing her homeland.
"I will stay here until I can find a job in my career field at home, that offers the same pay." She also added that the United States remains the world leader of innovation and technology. "We need to become leaders as well. Right now we just manufacture for others." She had no intentions of becoming a U.S. citizen.
The third I will mention is a young man who came to this country from the Middle East as a teenager. He became a successful entrepreneur and cherished his U.S. citizenship and his right to vote.
Each of the three remind us of that the wonder and draw of our great land remains for many living outside of our borders.
This year it seems more than appropriate to give thanks because we are citizens of a country that, despite being bruised and mangled by what has become an ineffectual political process, remains a beacon for the world.
I will close with the final paragraph of President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address.
"Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own."