As a run-up to the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the birth of John F. Kennedy on May 29, 2017, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has sent out an RFP (here, a Request for Plays) to the general population. The plays are to be at the most 500 words (about 4 minutes from curtain up to curtain down) and are to reflect the legacy of a particular sentence of JFK, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
Of course, I went right into action and scribbled off a first draft of a “tiny play” (my draft was actually a bit under 400 words). Submissions are due February 19, but I don’t think I am going to actually submit because my play is not celebratory, it is dark. Dark, dark…..and that’s probably not what they have in mind.
My thought is that Kennedy’s familiar quote must be looked at in context. Certainly, there are things we want our country to provide for us – one thing we all agree on, for example, is the national defense. And what about “what you can do for your country”? First, we don’t all want the same things to be done for the country. If someone wants to work to regulate reproductive rights, to build a wall on the Mexican border, or to round up illegal residents, it is clear that others would strongly object. So all of this depends on what your vision of your country is – there are some people I would love to see doing something for their country. But that sure doesn’t go for everyone.
So, I began to think about people whose vision of a country differ from mine. And how John Kennedy’s words can inspire them, as well as me, to participate in the political world. With this in mind (and I wonder what you think), here is what I put together yesterday morning:
“Ask What You Can Do For Your Country……”
[A young man (say he’s 24) and a young woman (say she’s 22) sit on a bench, talking. They are obviously attracted to each other.]
He: Boy, this is really inspiring. I’ve never really looked at this speech before. “Ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you”. That about says it all. I’ve been here now for five years. Never concentrated much on American history. But I am beginning to understand it here more and more.
She: Yeah, I guess that’s why JFK is remembered so well. That, and his head of hair. And I guess he tried. But that guy shot him. And killed him. So maybe he didn’t get much of a chance to do anything for his country.
He: Of course he did. He died for his country. Like you tell me that Jesus died for your sins.
She: That’s not quite the same, is it? It was God who decided that Jesus would die for us. But it was just some Communist moron who shot Kennedy. You don’t think that God ordered Kennedy to be killed, do you?
He: Well, sure I do. That’s how history works. We aren’t free agents, are we? Of course, we are being directed from above. Directed, and ordered, to do certain things to bring about the salvation of the world. Don’t you know that?
She: Not really. But you are right that Kennedy’s speech is inspiring. And today’s politicians. God, I wish that they more like him. “Make America great again” doesn’t have quite the same ring, does it? I don’t think “Break up Wall Street” does either. But maybe someone will come along. We should give them a chance, I guess. That’s why I’m excited about going to the rally this afternoon.
He: And I’m glad you decided to come with me. It’s always a big help, you know, to go with a pretty girl. We can get much closer to the front and can see better. Everyone will let you through. They’d just ignore me if I was alone. I wouldn’t be able to see anything.
And I am looking forward to hearing them. In just a few years, I realize that this is quite a country. Freedom that I wouldn’t have elsewhere. Open elections, free speech, the right to join crowds, the Second Amendment.
She: What does the Second Amendment have to do with this?
He: You’ll see.