Jewish World Review July 26, 1999 / 13 Av, 5759
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- BEFORE DIVERS HAD EVEN RECOVERED the body of John Kennedy Jr., a species of bottom-feeders was already nibbling on the young man's remains. Political hacks of all persuasions were using him as a human shield -- invoking his name to lionize or demonize his father and uncles.
The younger Kennedy was treated in death as if he were his father incarnate -- less a man in his own right than part of a holy trinity of liberalism: Father, son and Washington Post. Hagiographers rhapsodized about something they called Kennedyism. They tried to make Kennedy a martyr for Medicare reform or Third Way politics or some other such bilge.
It is difficult enough for the sons of famous fathers to make their ways in the world. It was downright cruel in this instance to push the son back into the shadows of a father he never knew. Although friends say he was thinking about a New York gubernatorial bid in 2002, Kennedy shied away from overt political work. He founded a magazine that gave space to partisans on both sides of big disputes, and he conducted himself publicly without rancor or bias. He was even one of the few people known to have hugged Al D'Amato.
Most importantly, he lived a long way from Camelot. If the Kennedy fans were shameless in exploiting the deaths of Kennedy, Carolyn Kennedy Bessette and Lauren Bessette, the Kennedy haters were arguably worse. The moment the world learned his plane had vanished, crazy missives began to pour in from e-mail Land. These communications also confused the son for his father and uncles, and correspondents raved at length about their hatred for various Kennedys, particularly Sen. Edward Kennedy. A few writers even opined the lad deserved to die because he was born into the wrong gene pool.
This all goes to show that people -- especially the press -- will do almost anything to make sport of somebody else's misfortune. The most macabre part of the coverage and reaction to John Kennedy Jr.'s death was the fact that so much of it focused on people he pointedly tried not to emulate. They commemorated his life by ignoring it. It doesn't get any more demeaning than that.
There was but one edifying angle to the entire story, and that was the behavior of the Kennedy family. While ghouls circled and pointed cameras toward open windows in Hyannisport, family members called in priests, welcomed friends, consoled one another -- and even spent time lending occasional aid and comfort to journalists.
Forget about ideology for a moment, and think about more important things. The Kennedys seem to have achieved something that eludes most of us. They have built a bond that spans generations and branches of the family. The cousins know each other more than in passing. The dozens of men and women, boys and girls descended from Joseph and Rose Kennedy, see themselves as part of a larger unit. They give each other love and joy and strength.
This is not a bad model to emulate. While the Kennedys have suffered through their share of self-inflicted setbacks, they also seem to have discovered the healing powers of familial ties and religious faith. One video of a Hyannisport gathering shows John Kennedy Jr. reading from Psalm 13. One imagines he would read it again to his survivors, if he could.
The people huddled in Rory Kennedy's wedding tent were not grieving for an -ism, or even for long-lost relatives. They weren't rehashing political feuds from ages past. Instead, they were whispering prayers for a young man they knew. They were weeping for a real human being -- not the matinee-idol of public imagination, but a kid who used to run on the lawn, sail in the boats, appear at reunions, and tease cousins and uncles over the phone. They mourned the loss of flesh and blood.
John Kennedy's death offers no great lessons about life or history or the nature of human existence. A good guy died before he had a chance to make the kind of mark we expected .
The same goes for his wife, Carolyn, and her sister, Lauren Bessette.
These deaths are sad, poignant and incomprehensible. They remind us that life is a
blessing and virtually every encounter a gift worth cherishing. If one feels even a flicker
of human kindness, the decent thing to do is to say prayers for the dead and the living, make
special efforts to practice daily kindness and, other than to offer solace or support, leave
the Kennedys and Bessetts
07/16/99: Pointed to a destination called 'Nowhere'