Grace and Guilt: Endless Nightmares for Kennedy Secret Service Agent

One of the Secret Service agents who was with President Kennedy when he was shot has written a book about it.  Gerald Blaine’s The Kennedy Detail is newly out, and the forward was written by fellow agent Clint Hill.

I ached for Mr. Hill, now in his late seventies, when he admitted that his guilt over his inability to prevent President Kennedy’s death had consumed decades of his life.  I never had thought about the responsibility felt by Secret Service.  But when you think about the “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” question that marks a generation, imagine if the answer were “in the car behind him” or “climbing onto the back of his limousine.”

Hill did an interview at Dealey Plaza in Dallas; I quote it in part:

Hill spent decades wallowing in guilt after the assassination.

“I went down to the basement with alcohol and cigarettes and stayed there several years,” he says, and ran those six seconds over and over again in his mind. He broke down on “60 Minutes” in 1975, saying President Kennedy’s death was all his fault.

We really do carry our guilt and sorrow a long time.  It’s humanly impossible to just let it go.

There are on which people can apologize to others.  Right now on Thepublicapology.com, there are apologies about someone’s children sneaking into a neighbor’s pool, a woman having mistaken a former classmate for a teacher at a high school reunion and an irate parent calling the police over a babysitter’s choice to spank a child.  And the site suggests that we all check in regularly to see if someone has apologized to us.

I probably won’t spend much time scanning for my name on there, but the proliferation of such sites does bolster the opinion that people carry around burdens for a long time.   If someone is suffering guilt over her child sneaking into the neighbor’s pool, think how Mr. Hill must feel about President Kennedy’s death and the ensuing national grief and loss of innocence it unleashed.

For me, this story brought up a couple of things.  First of all, it corroborates my view that we all should be treating each other gently.  I can think of times when I was out and about looking and seeming as normal as I ever do (which may not be particularly normal, but it’s what I’ve got), yet feeling horrible inside for one reason or another.  A stranger honking at me in traffic was enough to reduce me to tears.  I wanted to scream, as they say in the South where I was raised, “Be sweet!”

And the other thing I feel deeply on reading Hill’s interview is sadness that anyone goes around with unnecessary guilt when “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” as Romans says.  What a waste it is when we live without cashing a zillion dollar check written out to us.  Jesus came to bend the bars of our prisons, to set the oppressed free, to rescue us from fortified cities.  Many of them are in our heads, hearts, minds and memories.

Grace is a shocking, scary thing.  We can scarcely believe it’s true.  But when we begin to, we can creep up the basement stairs, ever so gingerly.  And come into the light.

Mr. Hill apparently found some catharsis when he was able to return to Dallas in 1990 and review the physical surroundings and realize that he had done all he could do and that at least he (the only agent who could say so) had a chance to try.

I only wish he’d not suffered so long for something none of us could have done any better than he did, and I wish he’d not felt burdened by the yoke of slavery of never messing up, in big or small ways, that so many of us feel.  It’s a heavy one.  It steals years.


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~ by Cary on November 23, 2010.

One Response to “Grace and Guilt: Endless Nightmares for Kennedy Secret Service Agent”

  1. Great post, as always! The apology website reminds me of a confessional booth. Saying sorry, albeit very difficult, always feels good, especially when the person on the other end (God) says “you are forgiven.”

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