“To tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Aeschylus
I remember going to bed after hearing that Bobby Kennedy won the California primary. Though I was only a child at the time, these were the turbulent 60’s where everyone was growing up fast, the counterculture was exploding. Music, fashion, and religion were at extremes and the backdrop to all of this was politics and the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. New ideas emerged from all walks of life by people who rose to the occasion and tried to change the world. It was an exciting time to be alive: it was a dangerous time to be alive. And many paid the ultimate price to secure the right to disagree and to love and live as you will.
When I awoke the following morning, my mother told me that Robert Kennedy had been shot. He would die the next day. And now after all these years, scenes arise in my mind of his brother John’s assassination just five years earlier in Dallas and Bobby’s rise to power in those five short years as events, places, and people ran unbridled through my mind. Bobby was next in line to take up the mantle, to carry the torch that fate entrusted to him.
Serving as his brother’s campaign manager, Bobby was heavily influenced by the plight of the poor in West Virginia and Appalachia. As Attorney General, organized crime became a foremost enemy and the civil rights movement came into focus during the years of its turbulent beginnings. And later as a senator from New York, the poor and disenfranchised and the escalation of the Vietnam war which he opposed.
Actively talking about these issues, you could see the depth in which they affected his thoughts, especially on his visits to Appalachia. He knew that his life of privilege must become a life of service. Bobby spoke to your sense of humanity as he seemed to have a pulse on the heart of this country which you could witness on the campaign trail. There was a mania about him as people clamored to touch the candidate they deemed as the heir apparent to deliver this nation from itself.
On the evening of April 4,1968, Bobby was set to give a speech in Indianapolis Indiana, a city with a history of racial violence when the news came that Martin Luther King Jr. had just been shot and died shortly thereof. His aides told him he should cancel fearing the reaction of the crowd when they learn of Dr. King’s death. But Bobby went out anyway and told the crowd the news reminding them that he too suffered the loss of a family member at the hands of an assassin. He then quoted the poet Aeschylus: ‘In our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”
Robert Kennedy would live only a few more months after he gave that speech in Indianapolis. The question is always asked, what if he had become president? Who can say? Judging from the sequence of events over the past 50 years, what would his presidency have saved us from?
I do know one thing, something was lost in this country on that fateful June day, the end of an innocence that you can’t be replicated.
*Image courtesy of Pixabay