November 22nd has always be a date when - for at least a moment or two - I reflect.
I grew up with a portrait of John F. Kennedy hanging on the dining room wall in our house - like many children of Irish Catholic families in the early 1960's (and much later).
My earliest memories in life are of November 24 and 25, 1963. I was four years old. I sat on the coffee table in the living room, next to my Mom, watching on our black-and-white television as John Kennedy's flag-draped coffin was moved from the East Room of the White House to the Capitol rotunda to lie in state. We watched the mourners stream into the Capitol that night. And the funeral the following day.
Now, fifty years later, I can still see the flag-draped coffin atop the horse-drawn caisson. The riderless horse trailing behind, with boots reversed in the stirrups. I can still hear the drums' haunting, mournful beat.
I also remember the commemorative edition of Life magazine and the memorial books that were stored away in our attic. And I remember showing them - and that portrait - to my own son when we visited his grandparents.
John Kennedy's words and the dozens of books I read about him growing up - and since - shaped my interest in public service - and with it, much of my life.
Heroes are often larger in death than they were in life, especially when death comes so suddenly and tragically. History can be a cruel - or at least a cynical - judge. But vision that endures and leadership that continues to inspire are true marks of greatness. They transcend cynicism, and put our present troubled democracy into stark relief. Through their example, heroes can provide the spark that keeps lit the torch that we must pass to future generations of Americans. In the final analysis - one of President Kennedy's favorite phrases - how brightly that flame still burns is our responsibility as citizens.