Wednesday, September 14, 2011

in which i become obsessed with the kennedys.

 {photo by Cecil Stoughton, Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, August 1963}

When I was a little girl, I went through these phases, phases in which I became obsessed with the subjects I read about in the books I loved so much. Anastasia the Russian princess, the Magnificent Seven gymnastics team of 1996, the sinking of the Titanic, Eleanor Roosevelt, Louisa May Alcott. These are the subjects I wish we could study in school: the ones we would research on and on, not to pass tests, but just to know.

Last night, as I watched ABC's special on Jacqueline Kennedy's recently released audio tapes, I became fascinated, again, with that family, that history. I was interested, as a young teenager, not in  JFK's death, but in the tragic death of his son. I remember watching with horror as news of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane crash splayed across the television, and I took to books and magazines and newspapers, reading all I could about this American family and what they meant to our history. The Kennedys, then, were yet another one of my phases, but it was a particular phase that must have passed quickly. As Diane Sawyer introduced those tapes, I realized how little I actually knew. 

I loved that Jacqueline Kennedy had the foresight, had the love for books and for history, to recognize the importance of preservation. I love that she spoke her mind, yet had the grace and the wisdom to reserve her opinions and judgments for the proper time. I love that she very obviously respected her husband, and that she had a deep desire for his respect as well. 

As I listened to the stories of Jacqueline's life in the White House, in her own words, in her own voice, I was reminded, yet again, of the importance of story, of how crucial it is that we talk to each other, share with one another. I loved that Caroline Kennedy made the bold decision to not censor her mother's words, allowed all of them to be published and shared with the world. Not all of the words we hear the former First Lady speak are politically correct; many don't make sense in this 2011 world we're living in. But Caroline must know what I think, deep down, we all know: Words in the moment, told as they're happening, are often just as important as the words we speak in wisdom later. They give a glimpse of the times, of the history, of the life we lived as we lived it. 

I'm afraid that as we grow up, we lose a desire for knowledge. I don't mean formal education and degrees; in some ways, I think we're more in tune to those things than ever before. But I think -- as we rack up degrees and do Google searches from our phones and multitask until we're blue in the face -- we are missing something, missing the desire to know more and to, I believe, become more. I like that the little girl version of me was always seeking out more information, always researching and reading, always wanting to travel to faraway lands and meet exciting people. I hope, while this graduate education of mine is on hold, that I don't choose to just sit and watch endless amounts of television shows or read page after page of silly books or blogs. I think in moderation, those are fine. But I hope I also choose to study and to research and to read about the things that fascinate me, the stories that grasp my attention and don't let go. Those, I think, are the things we'll long remember, after the statistics and the facts and the figures fade away.


When you set out on your Journey to Ithaca,
Pray that the road is long,
Full of adventure, full of knowledge.

- "Ithaca," by Constantine P. Cavafy


Staley Mc said...

I went through phases when I was younger too when I would read about historical figure. I just love history, I kind of wish it would have been my minor. I've had a fascination with the Kennedys too. I am so bummed I missed this special last night, I forgot and watched the Flipping Out reunion. =(

Leslie said...

great post! we recorded that special and i can't wait to watch it. i agree with you - it's so special that jackie kennedy saw the value in preserving her own thoughts and perspective. my husband is really good about still researching and learning on his own, and I'm not quite as inquisitive, I don't think. the main topic i've been enthusiastic about investigating lately is creativity and the habits that build it.

mary kate said...

in the third and fourth grade i went through a louisa may alcott and eleanor roosevelt phase, i read biographies, books anything i could get my hand on. and to this day i'm still a little obsessed with those 2 ladies. lately i've become hooked on pinning pictures of the kennedy's as a couple because they seem to look fabulous in all of them, wish i had known about this special so i could have watched it!

sherri lynn said...

So funny to see a post on The River Wild. We watched this movie many times as a family and it has become kind an inside family joke! Kevin Bacon was SO creepy in this; now I can't watch him in anything else!

whitney johnson said...

i saw that ABC special last night too! i actually didn't know much of anything about the family until i watched "The Kennedy's" on netflix, but now i have to say that i'm pretty fascinated! :)

Brittany said...

I went through phases like that when I was younger too--of course they corresponded to what I was reading. I loved last night's special, such a special thing to see. Jacqueline Kennedy is really fascinating--so complex, like all best humans are.

I love what you said about learning, about continuing to learn.

And that's a beautiful poem. I was pleased to learn that Jackie loved it too.

Jennifer said...

Now I wished I had watched this! I have always been fascinated by the Kennedy's!

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