The author remembers his childhood friend Jack, who was about to leave a real mark on America when his life was cut short.
This has been a cruel year. In the space of six months we have lost Pope John and our own President. Together they stood for a new and better relationship in our country between Catholics and non-Catholics—for the great ecumenical hope that is hovering over us all.
This was the first of two changes that the advent of President Kennedy epitomized. His election meant that our choice was also no longer restricted by practice and unwholesome tradition to one particular category of American citizens. Now that a representative of the largest of our minorities had broken through the invisible barriers that had confined our choice of leaders, there was real reason why others from less accepted minorities should not follow him. In actuality now, rather than in civics-text platitude, the Presidency had been thrown open to everyone, regardless of religion or color—or even of sex.
The second great change was the coming to power of a new generation, the generation born during the First World War which had fought the Second War together. For them—for those of my own age—the President had suddenly and rather surprisingly become their contemporary. He was no longer a father; he was one of us, whether friend or rival. For myself, I had played football with him as a boy, and although life had completely separated us in subsequent years, I could never think of him except as Jack, long before the newspapers had made the nickname a national cliché. Even in death I find it impossible to speak of him with the usual solemn formality, and I think he would have preferred it that way. He was a most unstuffy man.
I will not here give a eulogy or recount a life. You know it all—the papers have been full of it. Nor would it be quite proper for me to do so; life cast me too often in opposition to him. Those of us who in the past years were committed to the scramble of American politics were too close up against the President to see fully who he was. Now that he is gone—now that we compare him to others—we suddenly see a void and feel our loss. It is as though we could appreciate his full stature only after his death. So we should search our consciences. Were we always fair, in judging him?— or, beyond that, were we always charitable?
Like so many, I was in a public place when the new began to come in. People did not know what to do—whether to go about their ordinary pursuits or to give themselves wholly to their grief. These first moments were the most impressive part of the first forty-eight hours—the disarray, the broken phthses, the inability to say what one felt—before the TV sets began to grind and the official mourning took over.