“Ask and it will be given to you;
seek and you will find;
knock and the door will be opened to you.”
I have always been a visual learner. So early on I was intrigued by this seeming dilemma; What does it mean when someone says, “When you don’t see it, but claim it’s true, you are just believing” versus “Seeing is believing”?
Two seemingly unrelated events have taught me that seeing is not only knowing, but also a deep form of believing. In these two stories I tell of my encounters with President John F. Kennedy and Jesus, face-to-face.
In the Fall of 1963, I was a senior at the Jesuit high school in Dallas. Because President Kennedy. and his wife, Jackie, were coming to Dallas, many, but not all, of the Catholic schools let out for the day in celebration of this visit from the first Catholic President. JFK was my first real, live hero. (“Davy Crockett” was my first fictional hero.) Looking back on the feeling of expectation, I am reminded of the story of Zacchaeus who climbed the sycamore to get a view of Jesus when he was coming to town. (See Luke 19.)
Our family had grown up in University Park, an enclosed park-city surrounded by Dallas, Texas, and attended Christ the King Catholic Church and elementary school. There we worshiped Christ as King of the world, and had a multi-story mosaic of Him to contemplate daily.
During those days, honoring Christ the King in the streets of Dallas was a big deal. I remember my Dad, John L. Darrouzet, Sr., taking me to one of these full-blown processions that took place across from Holy Trinity Parish, and in front of the old downtown Jesuit High School. This image may well be of the one I attended.
So, it wasn’t like we Catholics didn’t take a stand for our faith out into the streets to demonstrate it; it’s that we had never before had a sitting President of the United States, who happened to be the first Catholic President, visit our city.
This was an even bigger deal, almost like seeing Christ himself come to town, at least that’s what it felt like to us younger ones, and perhaps to some of the older Catholics, particularly the women among us as well. Jack and Jackie were so charismatic we learned from them.
Those in my family and extended family who could go to see the President and Mrs. Kennedy agreed to meet near the intersection of Lemon Avenue and Lomo Alto Street that was on the route the parade of cars and buses in the motorcade would take from Love Field into downtown Dallas.
My mom, Mary Darrouzet, joined her sisters, my Aunts, Rosemary Brunner and Terry Jenkins, along with all the cousins (me, Bob, Chris, and Dan Darrouzet; Pat, Lib and Tina Brunner; and Joan, Jim, and Nancy Jenkins), at the intersection, and stood on the south side of Lemon Avenue.
We got there early, of course, hoping to get a good spot. We did. We would have a clear view of everyone and everything as they passed by.
Being early with a bunch of kids is not an easy situation to control. I was the oldest, and I was excited and uncertain what was about to take place. So, Aunt Terry figured out what we needed to do. She went across the street to get a roll of shelving paper and some colored markers.
When she returned she proceeded to hand draw a sign we could unroll in front of us all in the hopes the President would read it. The sign read simply:
“Please! Stop & Shake Our Hands — JFK-LBJ in ’64”
Here’s an image I snapped off my TV of our family in the recently aired National Geographic show called “JFK: The Final Hours.”
The sign-making and the planning about how we would show the sign at the most opportune moment kept us busy and calmer until we saw the President’s plane fly overhead to land at Love Field. That’s when the crowd that had gathered there began to jockey for better positions.
There were a great number of us standing behind our sign, and we were standing on the curb, so we were able to hold our line as the anticipation built.
My brother, Chris, had our Dad’s movie camera and he figured out the best position for him to take movies of it all.
Within moments, which were likely more than 20 minutes, word came racing down from the crowds to our West that the President was coming. We stood firm, and could hear the voices of the cheering getting louder as the point men of the Dallas Police motorcycles cruised ahead of the motorcade, clearing people back from the edges of the street.
Suddenly the President’s car came in view, and the voices became like the sound of cheering at a football game at the sight of a touchdown.
We were screaming as planned, holding up our sign… and to our sheer amazement we saw President Kennedy beckon to us, and brother Chris got it all on film.
Well, some of us dropped our holds on the sign immediately, not needing anyone’s permission, and jumped into the street, with Chris following us as the President’s car came to a full stop.
We began to reach out to the hand of the real President who had extended his to us. And there we were, right in each other’s faces…
I remember how happy the President and Mrs. Kennedy were to greet us. Such vibrant smiles. And JFK’s hand was thick and strong.
It was over in seconds, and off they went.
Our family was jubilant, my Mom and Aunts simply electrified. Aunt Terry rolled up the sign in near ecstasy at what had transpired. My Mom was bending over in excitement. My Aunt Rose smiling from ear to ear in a glee I will never forget. We children were thrilled. Brother Chris was still captured by the moment. He had sacrificed getting a handshake, and in doing so created a treasured film the whole family wants never to forget. We thank him still. And, if the reports are correct of what transpired after that stop, it may well be that it was my brother Bob or, more likely Dan, who was the last person to shake the hand of President Kennedy that day. Dan was so little, he was being squished by those behind him, and so, not being able to get out of the crowd, offered his hand again, and the President gave him a second shake.
The energy we felt leaving the scene of our encounter was so intense, it was as if we had been struck by lightning. My hero making hand-to-hand contact with me!
I could barely contain myself as I drove back to school.
About five minutes down the road, I turned on my old Chevy radio to hear what was happening as the President continued into downtown.
The turnaround of my emotions was never to be quite the same as that day. The man, my hero, I had only moments ago touched with my bare hand had been shot dead at Dealey Plaza.
At school, I watched the aftermath on the television, and then returned home to be with my grief-stricken family. We were completely stunned. Dumb-founded. In silent prayer.
Given the uncertainty of what had taken place (I wondered myself if this was the beginning of a government overthrow), my Dad, thought it safest to drive the family away from Dallas (a city that at the time had a reputation for being “The City of Hate”) to Austin the next day where his mom had previously planned on us going down there to celebrate Dad’s birthday on November 23. I sensed we were all more than a little scared of the unknown force that we had come so close to, and were relieved to get out of town.
Our Dad’s birthday celebration was subdued, as you might expect. And when on the following Sunday, as we prepared to go to Mass in Austin to complete the trip, we waited in front of the television to see the latest news. We had turned it on just in time to see the live coverage of Lee Harvey Oswald on his way to being transferred from the Dallas County Jail and… oh, my God, we see Jack Ruby shoot him dead!
Within the days that followed, the nation watched as President Kennedy’s funeral took place on national television. Our tears still flowed, especially my Mom’s, as we watched at home. At one point my brother Bob went back into his room, returning only a little while later with his free-hand drawing. He handed it to Mom, saying “Don’t cry, Mom.”
When our Jesuit high school held its memorial Mass, the emotions of students were still so raw and uncertain. As one of the speakers at the memorial, I told what had happened when the President stopped to shake our hands. One of the younger students laughed out loud. I turned directly toward him, and in what I remember to be an angry voice, silenced him and the entire assembly when I asked him if he would be laughing at the sight of the President’s bloodied head in the lap of Mrs. Kennedy.
The trauma of those events stayed with each of us over the 50 years that have now passed. Each of us has carried deeply the impressions of those terrible events. As I key in these words, I can still feel the President’s hand shaking mine.
Such sensory memories, though they are still vivid, did give way over time to deeper reflections. There was, and is, a sense of disbelief that it happened so close to us. It was and is one of those moments in our lives where we did not believe it even though we were present, and saw the President and Mrs. Kennedy with our bare eyes. Even though we knew what had happened, we had a tough time believing it. What a horrible way to learn about the thing called cognitive dissonance.
This cognitive dissonance played out in the country when the Warren Commission Report describing the governments conclusions about what had happened was challenged Rush to Judgment: A Critique of the Warren Commission’s Inquiry into the Murders of President John F. Kennedy, Officer J.D. Tippit and Lee Harvey Oswald. It was the first of many subsequent books raising questions about such conclusions, and offering other theories of conspiracies. (See Wikipedia article “John F. Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories” for a starting point for further reading.)
During my college years the perception of the Kennedys moved from American idols to mythological proportions at the encouragement of Mrs. Kennedy who observed JFK listening to the music from the Broadway musical, which was later made into the movie “Camelot”.
We stood with her exemplary courage through the funeral, remembering President Kennedy’s White House as that “one brief shining moment.” (See “How Jackie Kennedy Invented the Camelot Legend After JFK’s Death.”)
Later, of course, the following portrait of President Kennedy provided the official government perspective.
In a way, these mythological approaches seemed to help many get over their grief, and offered ways to explain what had happened and why. Those who couldn’t accept those approaches kept digging.
For our family, the encounter with President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy all comes back to us each year, because of the assassination’s proximity to my Dad’s birthday and at every major memorial time.
My brothers Bob, Chris, Dan and I were asked to reenact what we did at Lemmon and Lomo Alto for the 20th anniversary issue of Life magazine.
We worked with the photographer for almost two hours trying to get the emotions of the moment right. The photographer apparently thought we would have been feeling great pain at the assassination. We disagreed. We were there and did not realize what was happening as we lingered there in the afterglow, and before we started back home. So when it finally came to us, he had us rekindle our enthusiasm, and lunge into the street as if his camera was the President’s extended hand.
(This year, the 50th anniversary, following the suggestion of my brother Daniel, my brothers and I worked with the Texas Catholic Newspaper to remember the event from our family’s perspective. I will be updating this post with a link when that coverage is published.) (Here is that link.)
In 1991, Oliver Stone release his movie JFK which presented his take on the results of his digging.
That movie prompted Congress to open further investigations and hold hearings. (See United States House Select Committee on Assassinations.) The results were not settling.
A more recent effort by Catholic James W. Douglas in his book JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters is most telling, and much more satisfying. America Magazine provides a significant article entitled “A President for Peace: The deadly consequences of J.F.K.’s attempts at reconciliation” (November 18, 2013) and interview with the author in this podcast.
The power of these events, this surprising brush with history, took me into another direction when I found myself shaking President Bill Clinton’s hand some years later at a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Ceremony. Returning to my seat, I found myself deeply disturbed. It was a feeling that came over me in wonder, as if something bad would subsequently happen to the President after I had touched him. How strange I felt, mistaking effect for cause, losing for a moment the logic of it in the emotion of my profound wound. Coming to my senses, I thought nothing like this could ever happen again. I would chalk it all up to impressive experience and let it go at that.
But I was wrong. I would experience an even deeper encounter. Not seeing, and believing happened to me when my wife, Lynne, and I traveled to the Holy Land for our honeymoon.
Surely the visible contact with President Kennedy would always hold a more telling place in my heart than the art I had seen of Jesus throughout my life.
Surely, I would not have any problems touring the land and monuments where Jesus walked like I had toured and walked Dealey Plaza in Dallas. After all, I was an adult over twice the age I had been when I encountered President Kennedy.
I was wrong again.
As Lynne and I climbed the steps up to the Golgotha Altar (the altar within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built over the site where Jesus was crucified), we found tears flowing from our eyes. The reality of the death place of Jesus was even more overwhelming than I had ever anticipated.
Years after our honeymoon, when Lynne and I went to a local multiplex theater to see the movie The Passion of the Christ, it felt like we were witnessing a brutal public execution while others were being entertained by the movies shown on the other screens.
By comparison, the fictionalized account simply could not match the impact of our actual visit to the Golgotha Altar where Jesus was crucified.
Even though we had seen JFK and Oswald die over and over, we could not believe it. And not seeing Jesus die, we nevertheless did believe it.
In both cases tears and deep impressions.
Over the years since these encounters, I have read extensively about both men. My schoolboy hero JFK was more human than I thought when I was young and so is Jesus. I have learned more about what drove Kennedy to be killed and Jesus too. Jesus is no less my Christ the King. He is more real than faces of him found on the icons and images I have studied.
The interest in politics my brothers and I have stems no doubt in part from our desire to help our communities. That desire does have its roots in how President Kennedy in his first inaugural asked not what the country could do for us but what we could do for our country.
Click on this image above and listen to his speech again.
The interest in building God’s Kingdom stems more and more from the force of why Jesus washed the feet of Peter on the night of the Last Supper. I came to understood more insightfully why after reading such books as The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth and Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper.
Like most students of Jesuit education, my brothers and sister had learned the importance of being men and women for others, contemplatives in action.
On the surface, the formal explanation of what tied us and these encounters together was and is Catholicism, for sure. JFK and Jackie were Catholics. We were Catholics. Jesus founded the Catholic Church.
Was there more to this than that set of superficial, historical links? Yes, as I was to realize later.
My answer came after many years of reading about my hero JFK and our Jesus, Christ the King.
According to these authors and others, here is the image of the face of Jesus left imprinted on Veronica’s Veil.
What these researchers claim is that Veronica’s Veil is effectively the first Gospel, a visual statement of the Resurrection!
Seeing the face of Jesus is believing! Believing in the God of Jesus and as Doubting Thomas was later to see and say: “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28.)
The Volto Santo di Manoppello is currently housed in this sanctuary in Italy.
Pope Benedict visited the sanctuary and viewed Veronica’s Veil in 2007.
The Door Is Open
Fifty years ago, my family wanted so much to see our hero, the first Catholic President, JFK in person. We did, and in the aftermath of what happened, the encounter was real and surreal almost at the same time.
Having the images caught on camera by my brother Chris, following the loving encouragement of my Mom, and the creativity of my Aunts in constructing the sign that invited the President to stop the motorcade, is unforgettable. All of this is burned into our minds.
Once I understood how significant such encounters are with those we hold so dear, it became obvious to me why Jesus would also meet this human desire of ours to see his face, the face of God, by leaving his image with us. It is another sign of the power of God. No longer would we have to die if we looked into the face of God. Nor for that matter do our heroes die forever after we shake their hands.
The Trinity of Lover-Beloved-Love, Father-Son-Holy-Spirit, is the God of the living. Seeing Jesus in this image, we find our deepest desire to see the face of God fulfilled. Not by a leap of faith. By taking a deeper look, as if we are squished and only know to reach out our hands again like my brother Daniel did.
Seeing the face of Jesus as the Face of God takes believing to a whole new level. Not as a form of hero-worship, but as a form of deep consolation about how Jesus presides over the Kingdom to come.
When I receive communion at the Mass, I always remember the hard, shocking words of eternal life that Jesus spoke:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:56 & ff.)
And I always have the following image in my mind.
When I do reach out and touch the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ the King, I feel like He is talking to me each time like he did to Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:9.)
Copyright © 2013, John Darrouzet