America - Oh, America...what the fuck happened to us?
I drove past Bowdoin Street in Boston four times yesterday at work. It's the cramped little street behind the State House, and there's a footnote to it. A young Representative, then Senator, and eventual President kept a small apartment there at 122 Bowdoin Street.
Of course it's John F. Kennedy, and he had that little unit there to circumvent some residency laws at the time. Of course he lived in the Kennedy Compound downcape, but that little apartment served him as his legal and voting address, maintaining the facade of living in the district he once represented.
In any case - we have a soundbyte for that part of the tour. It's the one thing that Kennedy said that every American can recite without thinking. But maybe we should think. Here's the quote in slightly more relevant context.
Of course it is couched in the Cold War, but that's not actually the context I'm going to think about today. Indeed, let us go back to that single sentence we all know.
Ask not what your country can do for you, Ask what you can do for your country.
JFK was trying to reach the idealism of those long ago 1960s. At that time, a large number of Baby Boomers were coming of age. There were societies to build, moons to land on, and a whole host of wrongs that could be corrected by collective effort. This was the challenge the President issued on that day.
It resonates with me today, even 61 years later. I'm sure you can guess in what context I place JFK's words.
I recite an oath each and every week. Automatically now, but not without meaning. In that oath are three duties as follows:
Duty to God and Country Duty to Others Duty to Self
I have made a Scouting career out of asking every candidate for rank which duty they think is the most important, and why. There is of course, no wrong answer, but I often find it insightful towards a scout's thinking, and possible future trajectory through Scouting and life.
In any case - my answer is "Duty to Others", because to my way of thinking, there is no higher calling than service to your fellow man.
I believe this is the spirit that JFK was trying to channel in his inaugural speech. In many ways, America did respond - but given that the Kennedy Presidency and all of its hope and vision lasted a mere 1,036 days, we can never know what heights we could have reached with such a visionary leader.
That is the question for today. All those years ago, a President was trying to cajole and inspire all of us to work for the common good, look out for each other, and indeed, the rest of the world. Now though - as I initially asked, what the hell happened to us?
We ceased being a United States long ago. "I, Me, Mine" is our mantra today, and the hell with everyone else. Such a society will not be much longer for this world.