One of the songs my little patient continually asks for is the one the Little Mermaid sings:
Look at this stuff. Isn’t it neat?
Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?
Wouldn’t you think I’m a girl, a girl who has everything?
Look at this trove, treasures untold.
How many wonders can one cavern hold?
Looking around here, you’d think, Sure! She’s got everything! ….
But who cares? No big deal! I want more!
I want to be where the people are….
I am struck by the universal application of the lyrics. Often, you look at someone and think they are “the girl (or guy) who has everything.” Somehow, we spend our lives trying to be like others, only to get there and realize that those people also “want more.”
The song reminds me a bit of the telephone conversation I found this weekend in my research. I was thrilled to run across a recording of President Kennedy talking to former President Eisenhower, in the crackling audio of 1962. I’ve been researching this time period and these men that lived so many years before me. Hearing their voices was like an unexpected holiday with peanut butter sandwiches.
President Kennedy was a man who appeared to have everything.
He was born into a wealthy family. He went to the best schools and raced the best boats. He courageously rescued himself and a few buddies and became a World War II hero. He married a beautiful woman who became a national fashion icon. He had two beautiful children. Elected at a young age to the most important office in the world, he scorned his predecessor’s age and apparent inaction. He made a comment in his inaugural address about how the office was being taken by a new generation “born in this century,” unlike Eisenhower.
No one could see his chronic back pain, or the emptiness that drove him to the sin of numerous affairs. They only saw the picture perfect family and the man who had just been elected to the White House.
I’m guessing that in the triumph of his inauguration, the idea of asking President Eisenhower for advice would have been laughable to him.
Then, he actually tried being President. And on October 22, 1962, we break into this conversation.
“Well, I will–thank you for telling me, but I, personally, think you are making the only moves you can,” comes Eisenhower’s muffled voice.
“Yeah,” President Kennedy says, “it’s tough to, uh, as I say, we may get into the invasion business before many days are out.”
President Kennedy is in a crisis. The nation is standing on a razor edge between two bad possibilities. Soviet ships are headed to Cuba with missiles, from which the Soviets can attack the United States. If the US tries to stop the ships, nuclear war could break out. Everyone fears a war with no victors at all. Kennedy knows that there are only three men alive who can relate to his exact weight of responsibility (former Presidents Herbert Hoover and Harry Truman were still alive as well).
President Kennedy calls his old opponent, Eisenhower, for advice.
“Let me ask–General, what about if the Soviet Union–Khrushchev–announces tomorrow, as I think he will, that if we attack Cuba that it’s going to be nuclear war. What’s your judgment as to the chances they’ll fire these things off if we invade?”
“Oh….I don’t believe a bit.”
“You don’t think they will.”
“In other words, you would take that risk if the situation….”
“Well, as a matter of fact, what can you do?”
“If this thing is such a serious thing, here on our flank, that we’re going to be uneasy…you’ve got to do something. Something may make these people shoot them off, I just don’t believe this will.”
Kennedy laughs a little. The laughter sounds both incredulous and hopeful.
“At any rate, I’ll say this,” Eisenhower adds, laughter in his voice as well, “I’ll say this, I’d want to keep my own people very alert.”
“Yeah,” Kennedy says, both men laughing now, “hang on tight.”
It’s the laughter of one man on whose shoulders rests the weight of a very heavy responsibility. Happiness for a little humor in the chaos.
It’s the laughter of an older man who knows what it’s like to feel the weight of heavy responsibility. Relief that it’s not his anymore.
“Thanks a lot, General.”
This conversation just sounds so normal to me.
This human grappling with the threats at hand, and reaching for the people who can relate, isn’t it also universal? In all of the stressful situations we face, we long to be where the people are. It doesn’t matter how many treasures we have in our trove. We want to find the people that have already gone through what we are going through. We want to believe that there is someone who understands.
It’s great if we can get to the place of saying, I was wrong. Let me learn from you. I think that’s why I find this conversation between Kennedy and Eisenhower so fascinating.
But there is something so much greater that we miss if we turn only to people for help.
Perhaps the only way we can really feel perfectly understood and content with the treasures around us when we have a continual relationship with God. When we experience an all-powerful God who knows our names and conditions, we have Someone who understands. We have Someone who is with us, even when we can’t be “where the people are. ” We have someone whose arms are still open when the stuff we have believed in and pursued turns out to be only vapor.
For the conversation between Kennedy and Eisenhower, go here.