1. It’s Monday, May 29, 2017.
2. It’s the 100th birthday of John F. Kennedy.
For those of us who lived through his brief presidency, it’s hard to imagine JFK as a centenarian. He epitomized America as a young country – at 46, he was even younger when he died when Barack Obama was when he was elected.
It’s because of that youth that he’s idolized. He symbolized what many of us think America should be – a country that’s a beacon of democracy and freedom, proud of itself, looking toward the future.
JFK is revered partly because he was murdered. But he’s also revered for the promise: the steps he took toward healing our nation’s racial divide, toward putting people on the moon, toward a more peaceful world.
They were big dreams. But dreaming big is what this country is supposed to be all about.
He was tough when he had to be – the Cuban missile crisis was a test he passed, thankfully. And he had his big failures – the Bay of Pigs and getting us more involved in Vietnam.
But no one questioned John F. Kennedy’s motivation and patriotism. And anyone who heard him speak – particularly what might be the best inauguration speech ever – doubted that he believed in the people of the United States in a way that’s sadly missing from the White House on his 100th birthday.
3. It’s Memorial Day.
For the families of those who lost loved ones in our nation’s battles, their loved ones are hard to imagine as older men and women. They will always see the sepia or fading color picture, with either a tight smile or a serious pose, and sharply creased uniform of the service to which they belong.
People who die young don’t age in the minds of the people who love them. Those who died in World War II and Vietnam are seen by their grandchildren as somehow younger than they are.
There might be some small comfort in that – that the ravages of age don’t take away their youth, don’t afflict them with the problems all of us endure as we get older.
But that comfort is totally overshadowed by the sense of what’s been lost. The chance to see a younger generation grow and succeed. The joys of graduations and weddings and children and trips to wonderful places.
That they sacrificed so that their children and the children of millions of others could enjoy the blessings of life seems cruel and unfair. But it is a price they paid bravely, with honor.
So today is the day to think of those young people, perhaps to grant them eternal youth along the thanks of a grateful nation. To see their smiles or their earnest stares – in portraits painted in the Revolution or photographed since the Civil War – and realize there is no America as we know it without them.
4. Memorial Day often seems restricted to those who remembering those die in uniform.
I think that’s a little shortsighted.
I absolutely don’t dismiss the sacrifice of those who fought for the United States. But I think fighting for the United States entails more than just enlisting in a military service.
So, on this Memorial Day, let’s remember the people who died stopping terrorists from crashing United Flight 93 into the Capitol or the White House. They weren’t active military personnel, just people who realized what was happening that horrible Sept. 11 and acted as patriots.
Let’s remember the more than 21,000 law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.
And, the most recent example, let’s remember bystanders who did anything but stand by – the two men killed last week trying to stop a white supremacist terrorist from harassing a Muslim woman on a Portland, Oregon, commuter train.
It should be Memorial Day for all of them and anyone who has sacrificed her or himself for this country. I sincerely believe the men and women who died in uniform would share that sentiment.