“We shall send to the moon 240,000 miles away, a giant rocket, more than 300 feet tall on an untried mission to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to Earth. But why some say the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why 35 years ago fly the Atlantic? We choose to go to the moon. We chose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things not because they are easy, but because they are hard. Because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we’re willing to accept. One we are unwilling to postpone. And therefore, as we set sail, we ask God’s blessing on the most hazardous and dangerous and greatest adventure that man has ever gone.” — John F. Kennedy, Jr.
Walking around Dallas, Texas to stretch the legs a bit, I had one destination in mind the entire time. It had to be Dealey Plaza and the Texas School Book Depository building. This may seem morbid in a way, but it’s similar to me to visiting the 9/11 Memorial in New York City. It’s a place we all know about (though I wasn’t alive at the time of Kennedy’s assassination) and feel compelled to experience to get a feel for what the place is really like.
The thing about Kennedy that everyone remembers is the sense of hope and youthful energy that he brought to the White House. That it would be taken away so abruptly ripped the heart of the nation, no matter which side of the aisle you sat on politically. There are very few things that seem to unite us today, and we remember the moments when we stand together as one. That I visited on 9/11 wasn’t lost on me. Along with Pearl Harbor, 9/11, the Challenger explosion, Kennedy’s assassination was one of the seminal moments in American history.
The thing is, Kennedy died but the ripple he made continued to reverberate. It says a lot that I should seek out the final moments of a man who died before I was born. It says a lot that we did go to the moon, and America did grow as a nation after JFK’s death. We show the way in our lifetime, that others may find their way in their lifetime. That we may grow as a society after we’re gone. Kennedy called for a nation to channel the best of their energies towards an audacious mission. That we accomplished it was one of the brightest moments for the nation in some dark days to follow Kennedy’s assassination.
That phrase, choosing a goal that “will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills” should still provoke us. Are we measuring up to the best we can be? Do we have the right goals in mind for ourselves? That’s what echoes in my mind when I think of Kennedy. We all know where his life ended, but it’s who he challenged us to be that stays with us.