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?

25 thoughts on “Opposing forces and unsolvable mysteries”

  1. Wow – very intense things to think about here.  I’ve definitely had moments of completely opposite emotions – can’t think of specifics right now, just remember the feeling of puzzling about it to myself. 

  2. Oh MY… I had no idea— I thought she was reaching for help — wow.. wow… that is something amazing and I am sure something she lived the rest of her life remembering til her death. I can’t imagine.  I can’t – I hope I do not have to.  Wow!  Thanks for sharing this.  It took me back.

  3. Incredible.  I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such extremes of emotion simultaneously … and I wonder if, in Jackie’s case, part of her reaction was almost primal … something that horrific must make us do things we would never do, even if our hearts are elsewhere, our bodies kick into gear.  Salvaging what she could … truly amazing.

  4. It’s interesting that you brought up the Kennedys. I was reading an article in Newsweek that was about Mary Kennedy’s life and her recent suicide. It’s interesting how if you bring up her name in conversation at all, usually one will invariably say, “Oh, that figures she was a Kennedy.” If the roles had been reversed and her husband, the true Kennedy and a philanderer had died,  I wondered if I would have felt the same after reading the article. IMO it was too one-sided and left the reader conflicted about such a troubled soul. I found part of me siding with the womanzier and the other part going, ” wait a minute.”

  5. It was such a human moment, a capturing of human fragility.  To see that primal instinct of gathering the piece of his skull.  It reminds me of the people who come together after a suicide bombing to collect as many pieces of flesh as possible to give them a proper burial.  I feel like it’s the opposite action: someone destroys a life with a bullet and another person tries to collect the pieces.

    1. Exactly. What she did in that moment was pure instinct — probably very little thought or caution involved. Your scenario makes me scared for humanity and also hopeful, too. It’s both always, isn’t it?

  6. I always thought that the stepping out was nothing compared to the whole world watching their family-building — the healthy babies of course, but also the miscarriage and stillborn before the presidency, the speculation about when the next baby would come, and especially Patrick, the baby who died as an infant while they were in the White House. As secretive as I am about family-building, I can’t imagine the whole world watching all of that.
    JFK died 3 months after Patrick died, which for me brings a whole other dimension to Jacqueline watching her husband die and perhaps fearing that she was next. I imagine the panic that she might have felt as a mother, wanting to keep herself alive so that her surviving children wouldn’t lose both parents and their brother within 3 months, so that they would have someone left aside from each other.

    1.  @Baby Smiling I had never thought of bringing the babyloss aspect into it. I can’t imagine going through all that on the world stage. To think she was still grieving Patrick when this happened…

  7. Philandering brings out the hypocrites – what you say you’d do if it happened to you and what you actually do when it does happen to you are completely different.  Outsiders don’t understand when you try to work on things. (yes, personal experience speaking, and that marriage did ultimately meet it’s demise – thank GOD).  Compound that with being in the public eye, and as much as every move of their lives was scrutinized, I bet Jackie was living her own private hell.  UGH!  The horror of anyone being shot while you were sitting next to them, can you even imagine?  

  8. I was standing next to someone when he was shot. It wasn’t as bad as you think. I was covering a demonstration in Jerusalem – and the cameramen next to me was shot in the arm. He just looked very surprised and dropped his camera – and then he told me to run. Which I did. In high heels and shelpping a heavy reel to reel taperecorder. And it led to one of those pulled in two directions moments. As I ran young kids started taunting me in Arabic “Yehudiyyeh, yehudiyyeh” (Jew, Jew) they yelled. “Mish Yehudiyyeh, sahafiyyeh!” I replied (Not a jew – a reporter). As soon as the words were out of my mouth I felt enormous shame, and relief. Shame that I’d denied who I was – and relief because they grabbed me and pulled me out of the stampede of running people and thrust me through a door into their home, where a woman wiped my tear gassed face with a damp cloth and gave me an onion to rub under my nose – it kills the effect of tear gas. 
    It taught me a huge lesson – never excoriate someone who denies who/what s/he is or does under extreme pressure. You have to lie when you think your very life is in danger? Guess what, like me you’ll probably lie.

    1.  @LoveHeckerty Like @JennyFord  said below, what you THINK you’ll do and what you ACTUALLY do in a super-stressful situation are not always congruent.
      A good lesson in not judging unless/until you’ve walked in someone’s shoes.

  9. Thank you for sharing this. Back when I was a teenager I was really into conspiracy theories and tried to learn as much as I could about that day and what happened with JFK’s assassination. But I don’t recall hearing this story before.
    I have held opposite emotions many times in my life, one that comes to mind is the day our daughter Molly was born and died. It was one of the happiest and saddest days of my life, if that’s possible. I was overwhelmed by her being born alive and having that short time with her before she passed away, the love that our family, friends and others surrounded us with through their presence (both physical and spiritual) and then having to say goodbye to our baby girl, who we would never get to bring home with us.I also often have such conflicting emotions when I try to understand how people who I find difficult to love think and treat others. I go back and forth between being dumbfounded by their actions and totally getting where they are coming from and feeling compassion for why they do the things they do that hurt some people in their lives (including me).

    1.  @[email protected] I thought of you and Molly when I was writing this post, Kathy.
      I really like what you say about having compassion even for people who are difficult to love. It’s easy to love the loveable, isn’t it? It takes something extra to love those who, um, challenge you.

  10. I think women in these positions- ones that carry huge visibility and power don’t view the infidelity the same way as others might. In their own way, they understand that it may be the ticket to the game. Not that they get to do it, because I never have heard scandal around Jackie- but it wouldn’t surprise me if she knew and accepted it. Great (and shocking 🙂 post! Virginia

  11. I have no doubt he was a philanderer, but he was also a powerful and charismatic man who was the president. Jackie was no dummy – she knew who he was and, I believe, accepted his faults as part of the deal she struck for being in the position she clearly enjoyed. Though it’s trite, it’s true – we never know what goes on behind closed doors.

    I was also shocked to learn that she was reaching for part of his head.

  12. I see why you are the yinging yanging blogger. A very interesting perspective of the events. Being from near Hyannis, he remained a hero, but then again, my Father’s Day blog was, My Father was a Gangster. It was commonly accepted behavior. My step mother acted the part as well. Lots to think on here.

  13. I’ve never seen the Zapruder film before — just stills. It seems she didn’t know he’d been hit the first time. And, yes, I can interpret her actions after the second shot as consistent with the SS agent’s statement. Such a horrible event and such an instinctual act of concern.

  14. Very interesting post, Lori. Sometimes we forget that Camelot was tainted with rumors of misbehavior. Back then it was easier to sweep bad news under the rug. Today would be a much different story. I also have wondered how Jackie really felt about JFK and his infidelities.

  15. Lori, I love what you have done with this post. Fifty years later it is difficult to form a new perspective on an old event. But you have done that. Well done! The life of anyone cannot be summarized in one day of that life, not even in a day when the person who lived that life was assassinated. You draw in the culture and the relationships. Love it!

  16. Jackie’s act at the moment of the shooting is amazing and yet one we’d probably all do for a loved one.

    We shouldn’t be too harsh on JFK about his philandering. I think that kind of behavior was more common and quietly accepted back then. Not condoning it, but putting it in context.

  17. I’ve always thought that Jackie was the one who brought the magic to that pair. She had such a strong sense of the way things should be – or rather – the way things should appear to be. She was a beautiful example of grace under pressure during her husbands presidency, and especially during the aftermath.

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