Defining Moments and Existential Questions

Today is the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

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As I am not yet 45, this event was never a part of my psyche; my defining moments are, I think, the Challenger explosion and, of course, 9/11.  Listening to the commemorations on public radio and T.V. today, though, it’s plain that, for a number of people who are of an age to recall this day 50 years ago, it remains an important part of their national identity.

I am contemplating today what it means to me to be an American.  I’m thinking about the things that I learned about the Kennedy years – the call for service, the insistence upon responsibility to one’s fellows, the drive for innovation and exploration – and am wondering whether I’m doing enough to contribute to the very real (but scarcely realized) promise of this country.  I’m thinking about the ways in which I can minimize the dysfunction in our political and civic life; what else can I do to help educate, empower, and nurture my fellow countrymen?  Where can I go to find like-minded, energetic, passionate, dedicated, and ethical people who are willing to do some hard work to make sure that we’re living up to our collective potential?  How can I best put my time, energy, and talent to use?

While I think that teaching is a noble calling (and one to which I am fiercely dedicated), I’m starting to question (again) whether that’s where I truly belong.  I’m again finding myself professionally frustrated, and as I think about JFK (and RFK, and MLK, and all the others who have exhorted us to be our best selves), I am wondering where I truly belong.

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