“The Energy - the Faith - the Devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it; and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.” I had become more than familiar with this particular quote by both reading and hearing it hundreds of times, but there was something extraordinary about seeing it against the skyline of our nation’s capital that made the words ring even truer in my heart. My dad was standing next to me facing the large granite memorial, our backs to the eternal flame of John F. Kennedy’s final resting place. After what seemed like endless gazing into Washington D.C., we turned to approach the gravesite of a man we both considered much more than the 35th president of the United States. Instead, we were about to witness how the death of our hero would impact not only our entire country, but the bond between us as well.
I grew up fully aware that JFK was my dad’s hero—and it was no secret for he was always watching Kennedy documentaries and filling me with quotes. As a proud Irish-Catholic Democrat, President Kennedy was the epitome of my dad’s perfect leader. I’m not quite sure when the interest was passed on to me, but I developed it from a very young age. I remember during car rides to the Twin Cities I would suffocate my dad with questions; I wanted to know everything. It wasn’t long before I started doing research of my own and developed a passion for presidential history. When watching President Kennedy’s inauguration speech, I always associate the line “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans,” with my dad and I. Instead of a family heirloom, his knowledge and love for this historical figure has been passed down to me, and will most likely continue throughout generations in my family. Though my dad and I will always have our disagreements, we can always escape everything by going back to our favorite place in time together.
I could tell by the amount of people surrounding John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame that my dad and I were not alone in our attachment to the President. I had never seen so many tears in my life, and couldn’t help but join them in mourning. It had taken me until that moment to realize exactly how vast the impact one man’s death could have on the entire world. As I moved from face to face I realized that not everyone there was American. It was hard to believe that on a 98 degree August day so many people would trek up the painfully large hills of Arlington National Cemetery to pay their respects. I looked over at my dad, and instantly knew that the blinding sunlight was not the only reason he was wearing sunglasses. In silence, all teary eyes were focused on a single burning flame. It was a symbol that each person identified with individually—a symbol that to me meant courage, charisma, and legacy.
Glancing over at my dad again, I realized that the very traits I admired in JFK exist in him too. Though he may not be able to read 2500 words in a minute like Kennedy could, he has never failed to show courage or strength when facing an obstacle. Frequently he quotes, “If ambitions aren’t lofty, then they aren’t really ambitions are they?” Furthermore, my dad is blessed with the gift of charisma. Whether we are having a deep life discussion, arguing, or just talking about things in general, he has a strong presence. His leadership ability allows him to be capable of anything. I know that my dad is going to be remembered as someone who put forth respect for every person he encountered. The way he treats others and motivates them will be his legacy. Courage, wit, and strong values are ethics instilled in my dad. Though he has never been President, he is a lot of things to me; he is someone who is helping me become the best I can be—he is someone I am proud to call my father
Visiting John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame was a very special moment; I wouldn’t have wanted to share it with anyone other than my dad. Standing alongside of him as we reflected on JFK’s life and death filled us both with powerful emotions. After all, it’s not often that both of my heroes happen to be in the same place at the same time. In that moment I finally realized the true definition of the word “hero.” It was not about wealth, appearance, title, or fame but instead the courage shown in touching every person you encounter. It wasn’t what you have accomplished, but what you inspire to be accomplished in the future. It wasn’t about intelligence, but instead about having a charismatic personality and sense of decency toward all others. Looking back into that now-familiar view of Washington D.C., I awoke to the realization that all of this was bigger than me. The amount of change needed in the world seemed so intimidating at that moment. However, I was comforted knowing that even though JFK was gone, we still had our heroes to protect us. We still had the strength to hope and love without cease—it was an eternal flame within each one of us burning light for the world.