President Kennedy’s Tragic Death: from a lecture on Nov 24, 1963

NOTE: The following is the opening to a regularly scheduled Sunday morning lecture, adjusted to address the assassination of President Kennedy which happened just two days earlier.

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Fall 1963 Manly Hall Lecture Program

Reflections on the Deeper Meaning of Thanksgiving Day:
In the Light of President Kennedy’s Tragic Death 

Manly P. Hall, November 24, 1963, Los Angeles

We are all deeply moved and saddened by the tragic circumstances of the last few days. We like to hope and believe that human beings have within them a depth of understanding and insight which will enable us to move forward along peaceful and friendly lines, with kindly attitudes toward the unfoldment of national and world destiny. An incident such as the assassination of President Kennedy tells us, however, something of the terrible pressures which are still so near the surface of our way of life.

On this occasion, we are no longer concerned with the public image of this man, primarily; we are no longer concerned with his political preferences or attitudes, we are concerned with a human soul, a human being going forth, under these tragic conditions, into a greater universe than he has ever known. We are concerned with the tragedy that has come to his wife and children. By this circumstance, he comes into our own lives as a father, a husband, a son, and a private citizen. I am sure that all the people in this nation are united in a sincere sense of loss—a sense of loss that is made more tragic and terrible by the circumstances that attended it.

I think, also, that we should give thought to the other sad events that were tied up in this tragic picture—the policeman killed in the performance of his duty, and the assassin. Whether he was mentally sick or psychically sick, or whether it was only that into his own weak nature flowed all the intemperances of his time, we will not know. We grieve for his mother, who must bear this shock.

From all these and many other factors and circumstances, we are moved to a deeper realization of the impermanence of life, and moved to the realization that at any moment the patterns of individual destiny may be changed by forces almost beyond our comprehension.

There seems to be no question, however we view the matter, that President Kennedy was drawn inevitably to his destiny, but we cannot but pause and regret that the political structure makes it necessary for a Chief Executive to become so involved in the politics of a party that he must hazard his life to advance the purposes of that party. It has been common practice for over a hundred years for this to be the case, but I think more and more people realize every day that this high office should not be so deeply involved in these political considerations.

It is also tragically interesting to realize this strange pattern that has dominated the presidency of this nation since 1840. Mr. Kennedy is the seventh president of the United States to die in this strange cycle of twenty year periods—1840, 1860, 1880, 1900, 1920, 1940, and now 1960. The man elected as president during each of these years has been fated to die in office. There seems to be no ordinary explanation for this peculiar cycle that has dogged the footsteps of our leaders. Also, we know from the stars of Mr. Kennedy that a strange fatality hung over his personal life, that he was moved, in some strange way, as the more fatalistic Moslem would point out, to go forth to meet his own destiny. The black camel must kneel at every man’s door.

We sincerely hope that this tragedy will bind up some of the political wounds that have divided and injured our national life in recent years; that perhaps in death Mr. Kennedy will accomplish what he could not accomplish in life—the reconciliation of some of the pressured factors that have disturbed our economy and our nation for many years. At this moment, the world is solemnly united in grief, and even those who might not have approved of his methods or his ideals, certainly are outspokenly in disapproval of what has occurred. And so it may be that nations will come closer together over the tragedy in the life of a private citizen.

We sincerely hope that President Kennedy’s death will help in the fulfillment of the good purposes that he sought to advance. If this occurs, he will not have died in vain. We have no way of knowing all the dedications of his heart, but we are convinced that whatever these may be, they will be enriched as spiritual experiences within himself, and that he will go on within the structure of laws, of principles, and of truths which brought him into being and took him out again according to its own way of things.

I think at this time it would be appropriate for us to unite in a moment of silent prayer.

Amen