Walking Across the Frontier

I loved being a Peace Corps Volunteer. God, I loved it so much.

It was like being a lock on the far end of a chain stretching across time, connecting me to the New Frontier and all the people who made it. William Lederer and Eugene Burdick. The students at the University of Michigan. That first group of Volunteers, on their way to Ghana. Sargent Shriver. JFK.

I wanted to be a part of that more than anything else in the world.

When I was a kid my Dad had a tape of JFK’s speeches: The Speeches Collection: John F. Kennedy. He would watch it from time to time, and I would sit and watch it with him.

But based on my observations of him in 1952, and in 1956, and last Saturday, Mr. Truman regards an open convention as one which studies all the candidates, reviews their records, and then takes his advice. We would look at each other, my Dad and I, at this line, eyebrows raised, as if we’d just seen Dick Butkus tackle somebody. Oooooo.

The classic circus elephant line. I run against a candidate who reminds me of the symbol of his party, the circus elephant, head full of ivory, a long memory and no vision, and you have seen elephants being led around the circus ring, they grab the tale of the elephant in front of them. Roaring laughter. “The Kennedy’s knew how to throw a punch,” my Dad said.

Then the Democratic Acceptance Speech. Dad thought it was too long, but it was my favorite one: But the New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises. It is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer to the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride — It appeals to our pride, not our security. It holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security. 

So inspiring. So empowering. I reread the words sometimes to remind myself why I went to Indonesia. Why I was so determined to become a Peace Corps Volunteer. The feeling those words instilled in me as a kid, I still get it even now.



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