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Forever young

PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - May 29, 2014 - 12:00am

He will forever be etched in history as a young and handsome man in the high noon of his life. The late US President John F. Kennedy would have been 97 today if he were alive. His mother Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy lived to the ripe old age of 104, and who knows if JFK would have lived to 97, too, if Lee Harvey Oswald had not figured in his destiny?

My lifelong fascination with JFK (certainly not unique to me) began when I stumbled upon one of his biographies, To Light a Torch at the Assumption Grade School Library a decade after his death. My fascination with the power of leadership, the gift of charisma, the legacy of hope and the promise of youth began with JFK.

In an article marking the 50th year of JFK’s assassination in a special commemorative edition of Vanity Fair (given to me by my sister Mary Mae Mayor), Todd S. Purdum writes, “Fifty years on, the sheer glamor of Kennedy’s inauguration, the sense of possibility, and promise in the winter air, and the striking, even shocking youth of the principal players still shine bright in the country’s collective  consciousness…”

We weren’t of the same era, of the same race or culture or the same vocation (politics), but in reading about him I found myself striving for his definition of happiness. On May 8, 1963, JFK said to a group of students: “The ancient Greek definition of happiness was the full use of your powers along lines of excellence.”

I had always believed we could conquer new moons in our lives as JFK had believed it was possible to put a man on the moon. After reading of JFK, I had always believed in Camelot, in “one shining moments,” in knights who would fight for what was right and just; in modern-day heroes who would save the world from nuclear annihilation (as he did during the Cuban missile crisis of ‘62). Kennedy made me believe in ideals, and that having one was not a waste of time.

With every leader I put my trust into, I see a Camelot.

JFK was a lifelong student of history, and his widow Jacqueline said that he believed more in heroes than in “bitter old men” when studying the past.

In my eyes, JFK’s feet never turned to clay even when I read about Marilyn Monroe and all the other women. I was revolted by Mimi Alford’s account of her affair with him — but my admiration for JFK is solid as a rock, albeit with a hairline fracture.

I guess it so with those who really knew him and truly loved him, like his widow, Jacqueline. She is said to have given only two press interviews in her life (to Theodore White and William Manchester) and much of her thoughts are contained in letters to confidantes. After the 10th anniversary of her wedding to JFK, Jackie wrote their good friend Charley Bartlett to thank him for introducing them. She told him that JFK could have “enjoyed a worthwhile life without being happily married.” But Jackie told Charley that without Jack as her husband, her life “would have been a wasteland and I would have known it every step of the way.”

***

Even now that they have passed on and are hopefully together forever, the Kennedys still make news. Some two weeks ago, the wires reported that Jacqueline Kennedy’s letters to an Irish priest written over a 14-year correspondence have revealed new details about the closely guarded thoughts of the fiercely private former first lady.

According to the Associated Press, the more than 30 letters, first reported in The Irish Times, were written to the Rev. Joseph Leonard and discovered hidden at All Hallows College in Dublin this year.

But in a letter dated January 1964, a few months after her husband’s assassination, she appears to question that very faith and asks why God would take her husband. “I am so bitter against God,” she wrote.

But she also said: “I have to think there is a God — or I have no hope of finding Jack again.”

Additional excerpts from the letters as reported by AP:

• Leonard also made the 1955 visit with Sen. Kennedy memorable. “You will never know how much our visit meant to both of us — of all the places we’ve ever been together that was — always will be — the best. And why? All because of one person whom there is no one else like on this earth — you.”

• In a 1952 letter, she described some of her early impressions about her future husband. “I think I’m in love with — and I think it would interest you — John Kennedy — he’s the son of the ambassador to England — the second son — the oldest was killed. He’s 35 and a congressman.”

• In a later letter she described his ambition and their courtship. “He hurt me terribly when he was campaigning and never called up for weeks. I think he was as much in love with me as he could be with anyone and now maybe he will want to get married because a senator needs a wife, but if he ever does ask me to marry him it will be for rather practical reasons — because his career is this driving thing with him.”

• On marriage itself: “After a year, I love being married much more than I did even in the beginning.” But she also expressed insecurities about the marriage, writing that her husband “loves the chase and is bored with conquest — and once married needs proof he’s still attractive so flirts with other women and resents you.”

• Jacqueline Kennedy struggled with the president’s death. “I think God must have taken Jack to show the world how lost we would be without him — but that is a strange way of thinking to me.” She later added with a touch of humor: “God will have a bit of explaining to do to me if I ever see him.”

The auction of private letters was eventually called off because the college selling them discovered it did not actually own the items, an official told NBC News on Friday. It was expected to fetch at least $1.2 million at the auction.

College spokeswoman Carolanne Henry told NBC News that the Kennedy family had become involved in the discussions about what to do with the trove and this had also played a role in the auction’s cancellation.

It is just as well because the letters were written in confidence to a priest who kept them secret till the day he died when he could have made money by leaking parts of all of them. But the priest knew that would be a betrayal of both his vows as a priest and of his friendship with a trusting confidante.

So why am I reprinting portions of them now? One, because they are already public anyway. And two, because they train the spotlight on an American idol, the man she loved, on this his 97th birth anniversary.

ALL HALLOWS COLLEGE ASSOCIATED PRESS ASSUMPTION GRADE SCHOOL LIBRARY BUT JACKIE CAROLANNE HENRY CHARLEY BARTLETT IRISH TIMES JACQUELINE KENNEDY JFK KENNEDY
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