Saturday, November 22, 2014

"I Have a Rendezvous with Death"

It almost defies imagination--like many elements that were the life of John Fitzgerald Kennedy—that the man whose life force was extreme would declare his favorite poem to be Alan Seeger's "I Have a Rendezvous with Death." (Wouldn't a life-affirming Yeats or Keats poem have served him better?) And that he would "often ask his wife to recite it."  You might expect this kind of reveal to be on a list in People Magazine, but it's on the Kennedy Library site, so one would expect it's true. Seeger died in World War 1, on the Somme.

Things I Have Always Known about JFK
It's not that my family had formal discussions about our first Irish-Catholic president, but growing up I seemed to amass many tidbits about JFK from my parents and grandparents.

•Papa Joe Kennedy wanted his first son, Joseph, to be the first Irish Catholic president, and started grooming him very young. When Joe died in WWII, Papa turned his eyes to Jack, and that was it. Jack had no say in the matter. Joe was smarter than Jack, and might have been a better man for the presidency.

•Papa Joe "bought" Jack the election through a combination of old school dealmaking and straight out bribes and corruption.

•His Addison's disease.

"Kennedy was diagnosed with Addison's in the 1940s. In 1955 he was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, an insufficient output of thyroid hormones. Symptoms can include many of those associated with Addison's, as well as paleness, intolerance to cold, depression and a low heart rate."

•Sister Rosemary was "slow" and her father wanted to "fix" her. He brought her to have a frontal lobotomy when she was 23, while her protective mother was away in France. It incapacitated her permanently, and she lived on the grounds of a convent in Wisconsin until she died in 2005 at 86.

•Jackie wanted to divorce Jack before the election because of his rampant infidelities, and Papa Joe paid her a huge amount to stay.

•There was a second son, Patrick, who was born in the White House but died after only three days. (See below.)

•I wrote about Ted Kennedy's death here.

Things I Learned Later
•Patrick Bouvier Kennedy was born on August 7, 1963, and died August 9. It was an emergency C-section for Jackie, and his lungs weren't fully formed.

•Lee Radzwill, Jackie's sister, had been in Greece on on the yacht of Aristotle Onassis. He says 'you should go to your sister to console her.'  Lee ends up bringing Jackie back to the yacht in Greece for her to recover from her son's death. That is where she meets the shipping magnate she will marry in 1968. Hmm.

•The gorgeous couple in the above photo are grieving parents of just three months.  And then they get in that car.

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air-
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath-
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows 'twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear...
But I've a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

(President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, arrive at Love Field in Dallas on a campaign tour with Vice President Johnson and his wife, Lady Bird, on Nov. 22, 1963, the day Kennedy was assassinated. (Art Rickerby/Time & Life Pictures via Getty Images)