One More Lost Hero:
John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr.
by Christopher Heagy
"He smiled understandingly - much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey."
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote these words to describe Jay Gatsby. Like the fictional Gatsby, John Kennedy Jr. has died tragically. I borrow Fitzgerald's words to describe Kennedy.
I never met John Kennedy Jr. I don't know much about him. I am too young to completely understand the Kennedy mystique. I have no personal connection to him. But in some way, we all have a connection to John Kennedy Jr.
In a country that has no royalty, John Kennedy Jr. was America's prince. He was America's first son. He was the son that every parent wished for, the man every woman wanted to marry and the man each of us hoped to be.
Watching the stories about Kennedy on the news the last few days, I was struck by one scene. Upon returning to New York after his marriage to Carolyn Bessette, his home was surrounded by the press. The next morning he addressed this gathered crowd. Kennedy understood that he was a public figure, but he asked the media to respect and give his new wife space. Carolyn Bessette, after all, had been a private citizen until the last few days.
Kennedy's manner was amazing. He didn't yell, scream or berate. He seemed to understand the reporters had a job to do. He simply and eloquently asked for a favor, a little distance, just a little space for his wife to adjust to public life.
John Kennedy Jr. was never a private citizen. Fame was thrust upon him at birth. The first son of the first family, his life played out in front of the public.
Both good and bad came with fame and the Kennedy legacy. He understood the responsibility that came with his name. John Kennedy Jr. tried to live up to these expectations but in his own way, by his rules.
It wasn't always smooth. He grew into manhood in front of all of us. We saw him graduate college, fail the bar exam, mourn the loss of his mother and start his magazine. His name captured our attention. We wanted to see those events and somehow be part of his life.
He had everything we wanted: wealth, fame, glamour and prestige. He lived a life of privilege but never put up a wall to keep the public out. He seemed larger than life, yet his humanness let us connect with him. He dealt with the same failures and difficulties that we faced. Through it all he did the one thing we all hope to do: he made his mother proud.
He showed us grace under pressure and dignity under the public eye.
By those standards, this dashing man who lived life by his own rules was a hero.
Heroes aren't supposed to die. They are stronger, more powerful and larger than we are. They live with a passion that few of us ever reach. But they give us an ideal to hold on to, something that on our best day we might achieve.
When heroes die in the prime of life, our lives are a little darker.
| Issue 29 |
Volume VII Number 29
July 22-28, 1999
New Bay Times
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