Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Year(s) (01/20/11)
TITLE: Fathers, Lost and Found
By Marlene Bonney
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The staggering announcement blaring over our junior high school P.A. system seemed to freeze the moment in time: John Fitzgerald Kennedy, President of the United States, had been assassinated! Gone was the usual loud bantering and scrambling and laughing and shoving typical to the dismissal bell’s buzz. We began to experience grief that day, not just as a spelling word to be memorized or structured into a sentence, but as a reality of life.
Adults in our lives seemed insecure—vulnerable—and the domino effect of this exposed America’s children, some for the first time, to the frailty of life. Churches opened their doors those days as prayer became fashionable again to a grieving nation, people recognizing their need for hope in God, a crisis of this magnitude forcing them to realize that they were not in control, after all.
Two days later my father collapsed from a mysterious illness. As the ambulance took him away, I had a passing premonition that Caroline Kennedy's world was intersecting with mine and the fate of her father was also destined to become my father’s. On the day that Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, the assumed assassin of J.F.K., we were informed that my father was in quarantine for possible spinal meningitis.
The taped footage of the JFK assassination locked in my mind: The cavalcade entourage driving through Dallas; the crowd’s smiling faces and waving hands turning into a bevy of shocked mayhem. Mrs. Kennedy’s pink dress splashed with her husband’s blood, his head cradled on her lap and, concurrently, Governor Connally’s limp body collapsing in his wife’s arms. The shouts of the panicked bodyguards, mass adrenalin pouring through their bodies even as the blood drained from the bodies of the men they served. The funeral procession: little Caroline in her designer clothes and darling little brother, John-John, performing the now famous good-by salute on what was his 3rd birthday--to his daddy.
And I identified with these children who had lost their father as I feared I was losing mine.
My father was finally diagnosed with rheumatic fever accompanied by rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and pneumonia. Large doses of prednisone, a new drug at that time, were administered daily to keep him alive. My father was released from the hospital three months later, moving into his parents’ home for recovery and rehabilitation, his disease-ravaged body and accompanying crippling arthritis a losing battle.
I observed Dad’s friends accusing him of un-confessed sin in his life or not enough faith as being the reason for his illness. And, in tandem, I watched the nation’s citizens cast blame upon the country’s security systems, police officers and security guards for John F. Kennedy’s tragic death. And I observed that God does not choose to perform a healing or rescuing miracle for everyone, anymore than He causes these bad things to happen; but that He allows these things for our growth and strengthening.
Over four decades have evolved since that 1963 presidential assassination. I cannot--nor can the nation--forget those days of trauma, anymore that our parents and grandparents can forget the Stock-market Crash and Great Depression decades previous to that. Our battle wounds have turned into faint scars that bear testimony to our suffering and to our perseverance and to our resiliency. The images of those happenings are burned into my memory like flowers on a kiln-baked pottery bowl. And, even as the Kennedy’s laid flowers on John F. Kennedy’s grave each year’s anniversary of his death, I paused momentarily to remember them in prayer.
John F. Kennedy’s and my father’s premature deaths, one sudden and quick and public, and the other drawn out and slow (he survived another thirteen years as a bed patient until a bout of pneumonia claimed his life) and involving only a slice of humanity, changed me forever. I am unable to separate these two incidents one from the other through the years, so close together in time that the second stepped on the heels of the first.
The lessons I learned that year shaped and molded me into a person who does not take the precious God-given gift of life lightly or the certainty of death carelessly.
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