Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22: Reflections on America

Today is the forty-seventh anniversary of the death of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, shot by an assassin's bullet on the streets of Dallas. It was on this date, in 1963, that another teacher knocked on the door of my classroom, in a private school and called  me out of class to share the horrible news. Neither of us could believe what we were saying. And then I looked out the window to a lone student, walking with the nightmare, the only American student in the school, and that picture of this tall, blonde grade twelve student almost ghost-like at the death of his president, will haunt me forever, as it has these forty-seven years.
I have visited the graves of both JFK and his brother RFK in Arlington Cemetery, and wondered, in my private space, what might have been, had we been able to watch the rest of his first, and perhaps a second term of his presidency.
His was the first inaugural address I had ever listened to, from an American president, on a cold, clear day in January, 1961, when I was in my second year at university. We gathered in the common room of the then exclusively male residence, in front of a black-and-white television, all somewhat mesmerized by the sound of his voice, and by the sound and cadence of the voice of Robert Frost, he of "The Road Less Travelled" fame.
And, to think that the death of JFK was considered a "loss of innocence" for America, and for my generation; we had not seen anything yet, especially the event of 9/11 and the ensuing aftermath. In this half century, we have watched as others, including Johnson (LBJ) and Nixon and Ford and Carter and Reagan, then Bush (41), Clinton, Bush (42) and now Obama have attempted to deal with the American political landscape, including the most militarily armed society in history, and the most "powerful" and at the same time, one of the most vulnerable, given the extreme parochialism of the people within its borders.
America is not only a neighbour and ally to Canada, she is a benchmark of what Leonard Cohen calls the home of the "best and the worst" (in his "Democracy is Coming to America").
And on this anniversary date, we are "treated" to one of the most anachronistic and out-of-touch statements by the current resident of St. Peter's in Rome, Benedict XVI, that "condoms might be permitted for male prostitutes, to prevent the spread of AIDS. As Stephen Lewis, the U.N. point man on AIDS in Africa, says, "He knows nothing about the structural issues of sexuality. There are literally hundreds of thousands of consenting adults engaged in sexuality activity, who are not paying for that sex."
And we reflect on the many cultural and social and psychic "conditions" that have resulted from the church's obviously completely out-of-touch positions on the morality of sexuality, beginning with the story of the Garden of Eden, and the proverbial "fall".
And we have perpetuated that "fall" in our lascivious pursuit of the sex lives of so many people, including JFK, in our to attempt to grasp some modicum of the reality of what we once called Camelot.
The lifetime of our generation almost seems bookmarked by the death of JFK and 9/11 in a narrative that began with "bobby-socks and blue-jeans" and ended with a 24/7 news cycle giving us instant information from every corner of the globe, complete with instant video captured on the palm-held "smart phone" and uploaded for everyone wirelessly.
JFK's flaws, equally as epic as his rhetoric and glamourous image, have required many scholarly tomes both to document them and to help bring America to a kind of reality that resists the unconscious Shadow, and could  resist more easily when the media was more controlled and compliant and dependent on "news" for its very survival.
And in 2010, the youngest brother of the Kennedy clan also rests in Arlington, after one of the longest and certainly one of the most memorable and most documented stories of the U.S. Senate, including his refusal to reconcile with then candidate Carter, following Carter's nomination in 1980.
America is the engine of the corporate "ideology" and modus operandi, for the world, and bigness is its signature. In our youth, we knew only a small and mostly benign part of that bigness, in such symbols as the New York Yankees, and the military bases that patrolled the Arctic, from Canadian sites, and U.S. tourists who flocked to our little "tourist town" on Georgian Bay with their blue-rinse hairdo's and their penny-scrambles for local kids on the town dock from the decks of their "huge" tour boat from Duluth Minnesota, and their Cadillacs and Lincolns, on their way to their summer homes on islands in the "Bay".
Living on the border with the U.S., Canadians are reminded every day of the porous nature of the border, and the huge gap between their knowledge of Canada and the reality of our country, just as there is likely a similar gap in our knowledge of America and its full reality.
They certainly, however, have a larger machine to tell their story to Canadians and to the rest of the world, and while there have been many times when we have found them obnoxious, and pretentious, we have nevertheless learned much from their exuberance, and their energy and their many significant accomplishments, although their relationship with guns does not endear them to the people on the north side of the 49th. Remember that gunshot from the school book depository on that fateful November day in 1963?

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