“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” from John F. Kennedy’s Inaugural Address, and one of my father’s favorite quotes.
I was seven years old and in Puerto Rico when John F. Kennedy was assassinated. And yet I remember it vividly. I remember the moment he was shot shown on television. I remember how upset my father, who was a World War II veteran, an uncompromising U.S. patriot and a lifelong democrat, was. And I made it a point to learn more about this President and grew to admire him as well.
So it seems appropriate that I spent part of my birthday at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Massachusetts.
Unlike other presidents, President Kennedy had little input on his library. Before his death, he selected a site for his library next to Harvard University, his alma mater. He also made the decision to include effects of both personal and official nature, not just the president’s papers, to represent a complete record of the Presidential era.
After his death, a committee including family and friends was formed, initially discussing plans for a memorial. They ultimately decided that the library would be the only memorial to the President. The committee also engaged many who had worked in the White House during JFK’s presidency in the development of the library.
Then, after many years of delays, including problems in freeing the Harvard site for construction and opposition from Cambridge residents who were afraid that visitors to the library would create too much congestion in the neighborhood, the location was changed. Jackie Kennedy, who had final approval of the architect and location, chose a new site in Dorchester, near the University of Massachusetts, Boston.
The final product is a striking building by I. M. Pei on a point across the water from downtown Boston. This location commemorates President Kennedy’s love of the ocean, but also is next to a scholarly resource to honor his wish that it be so.
The library does feel like an outsider’s view of this presidency, but it’s still quite impactful. And it’s a story of someone who was a catalyst for much important work that has continued, but ultimately it’s a story of a legacy unfulfilled and of what might have been.
After leaving the library, to lift my spirits a bit, I asked Hector to take me to the Boston Public Gardens for a walk and a ride in their adorably corny Swan Boats. A very beautiful green space with a lake, but, unfortunately, it was too windy and the Swan Boats weren’t running 😦
We had dinner nearby and walked over to the area where the Boston Marathon bombings took place. This terrorist act had a particularly personal feel to us, because between 2002-2007 Hector ran ten marathons. I accompanied and was a spectator for eight of those.
A marathon is an expression of the human spirit and heart. I know how hard Hector worked to reach the goal of finishing one, and then to improve his personal best. I know how proud he was each time he finished one, though he was a middle of the pack guy. And I know how much it meant to him when friends and family came out to support him.
When Hector ran the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C. he was injured. I tried to talk him out of running it, but he’d worked so hard, he said he had to try. So he finished but he had a particularly slow time. What a meaningful gesture when a young marine salutes each runner who reaches the finish line.
We lingered at the finish line for a while. That’s when we saw a couple of ladies coming in just before the marathon course was about to shut down. One lady was jogging slowly and when a small crowd started to cheer her on she started trotting. The next one was walking and you could see the determination in her face. And the crowd went wild. And she made it.
So while I think that the top finishers are very exciting, I think the human spirit is at its best in the runners in the back of the pack, and I admire them the most.
And I think they might not make it if not for the spectators that come out to lend their love and support to them. And that’s why this heinous act in Boston was so incredibly sad. But seeing how people helped each other after the bombing and looking at the memorials gives me hope.
And I believe that the spirit of those that were lost lives on, just as John F. Kennedy’s spirit lives on. And the spirit of those who were severely injured in Boston but are determined to come back stronger is already inspiring us.