Tag Archives: getting real

Opposing forces and unsolvable mysteries

Not long ago I wrote about what a cad John F Kennedy was. Not news to anyone, but in the news because of a book. As some of you pointed out, the President is not able to refute any claims, so we must be aware that we may never know the truth about his philandering.

Speaking of never knowing the truth, who was responsible for JFK’s murder may go down as one of the biggest mystery/controversy of my lifetime. Commissions and reporters have investigated, forests have been felled for the resulting documents, barrels of ink have been spilled — all in attempts to find the truth. When I was a child I thought that one of the perks of going to Heaven would be that there and then, I would know the full story of Kennedy’s assassination (I was an odd child).

With this post I want to marry the philandering with the assassination.

I try to put myself in Jacqueline Kennedy’s place. What would it have been like to have your friends and family, your husband’s political enemies and the media know that your husband was stepping out on you? Did she feel pressure, either internal or external, to DO something — grin and bear it, shut the hell up, make a statement, make a stink? Did she ever want to leave him? How did she deal with anger and a sense of betrayal? Or was it possible she felt neither? And most importantly, did she still love him, despite the huge (to me) flaw of infidelity? The heart doesn’t always follow the mind.

Have you ever seen the Zapruder film? I ask because a friend of mine recently admitted she’d never watched it. For all her life she hadn’t wanted the images of a person’s moment of death imprinted in her mind. I had seen it countless times, sure. Before the Internet, the Zapruder film was shown repeatedly every year around Thanksgiving. Always grainy, always as if you were looking into the wrong end of the telescope, always choppy.

But advancements in technology have resulted in enhancements to the film. I found a high-def, closer-up, frame-by-frame video on YouTube. I’m not embedding here, but click over if you want to watch. From frame  226 you can see the first shot and Jackie’ reaction to it. The most difficult frames to watch (for me) begins at 313 with the second shot. You can imagine that from her vantage point, she realized that her husband had been mortally wounded. By 344 she begins to flee the car by crawling over the back of the trunk.

Who could blame her? Adrenaline pounding, sudden shock that her husband is dead — who would have the presence of mind to sit still for that? It’s no wonder that the fight or flight mechanism kicked in and she tried to get herself out of the line of fire.

But that’s was not what she was doing. According to Clint Hill, the First Lady’s secret service agent, she was not madly fleeing.  “She was reaching for something. She was reaching for a piece of the President’s head.”

How mindful is that? Even under that extreme stress few of us will ever face, she was caring for and loving her husband (my interpretation of her actions), gathering the pieces of him — no matter the cost to her, emotional and otherwise.

That, I believe is astounding. I could imagine such action perhaps, for a Great Love, a Fairytale Love, a Perfect Love — was that what Jacqueline Kennedy had with her husband? But love is not that simple outside romance novels and story books and the minds of disappointed perfectionists. This was real life. Real, messy, complicated, multi-layered life in which competing emotions can occupy the same space at the same time.

This is where my mind goes when I try to put myself in Jackie Kennedy’s place and marry the philandering with the assassination.

Has there been a time when you’ve held two opposite emotions? How did you deal with the tension between the two, and did resolution ever come?

For shame

I have buried two shameful secrets for most of my life. Today I’m coming clean.

Which is not easy for a recovering perfectionist.


The first involved the Scripps-Howard Spelling Bee. When I was in 6th grade I made it to the district level and breezed through the written portion of the contest. I got through a round or two of the spotlight spelling, but fell later on the easy-peasy word gauze. Shame filled me. How could I have failed so spectacularly? I was certain that everyone in the room was laughing at the stupid idiot girl who messed up on a one-syllable word.

My parents arrived shortly after my crash-and-burn (they must have had a scheduling conflict for they rarely missed any of our activities) and I was relieved that they had not witnessed my fall. I was more than relieved — I was opportunistic. I thumbed through the Scripps-Howard booklet of words and chose the most difficult one I could find.

I told my parents not that gauze was my downfall, but that psilophyton was. It made my shame more bearable to create the illusion that a more difficult word had knocked me out of the competition.


The second took place a few years later when I turned 16 and set out to get my drivers license. Of course, I aced the written test. All that stood between me and new-found freedom was the actual driving portion of the test. My dad had spent hours teaching me in our family car, and I’d gotten an A in Drivers Ed (they used to offer it in our high school). So I wasn’t worried.

When the time came, though, I bombed the test. I failed to yield to oncoming traffic when turning left. I’m lucky I didn’t cause an accident.

My shame was of epic proportion. I could not tell my parents the truth. Instead, I told them that the instructor must have had it in for me. I just could not face them or myself. I practically convinced myself that my story was true.

Only it wasn’t.

Looking back, and being a parent now, my mom and dad probably knew the truth of both situations (I have never brought it up again, but I suppose this post will open up a conversation!). And of course they loved me anyway, in spite of the failures and the lies about the failures.

I didn’t really get off scot-free. Easing the burden in those moments had the counter-effect of weighing on my conscience all these years.

But instead of now feeling more shame for the young lady who failed, I offer to her compassion for living in fear and forgiveness for hiding her shame with lies.


Why am I bringing these minor-in-the-scheme-of-things up now? Because I’m excavating.

By virtue of burying these episodes for decades, they gained much more power than they merited. Small potatoes, truly. But through the deepness and the darkness, two small kernels of shame became supercharged.

It’s time to neutralize by shining light.

Often, in the light, the things we are most embarrassed by or even ashamed of suddenly seem not so dark, so charged, so burdensome. If we are fortunate, we are able to look at the thing with compassionate eyes and forgive our previous selves for the transgression. We know that most of the time we do the best we can with what we have.

And I think this notion has implications way beyond any spelling bee or drivers test.