Bobby Kennedy
Still Reaches Out to Us.

We are in the midst of another presidential campaign.  We will deal with the campaign for just over a hundred more days.  It has already been a very long and troublesome campaign.  Campaigns begin earlier and earlier every four years.  Unfortunately, the issue of starting sooner and sooner is a reality that we will all have to face. 

Nonetheless, what haunts me was Bobby Kennedy getting shot and killed during the campaign in 1968.  For many Americans, Bobby is ancient history.  However, I was in college and graduate school in the turbulent 60s.  He was a mentor for millions of my generation.  Beyond the haunting and hurt of his assassination, I believe that America could have been a much better place for all of us had Bobby not been killed and had been elected president. 

I was in Indianapolis, IN on the first week of June this year, which was the week that Bobby was killed in 1968.  I went to park at 17th and Broadway where he gave a speech in wake of Martin Luther King's assassination.  It was there that Bobby announced the killing of King to hundreds of blacks, who, until Bobby told them, hadn't heard about King's death.      

Bobby Kennedy's sense of presence and his own loss of his brother enabled him to express to those listening to him that he shared their loss.  Interestingly, thanks to Bobby's speech, Indianapolis was quiet while many other cities across our nation responded violently to King's assassination.

Bobby stood on the back of a pickup truck and spoke directly to the crowd.  His speech was not from a prepared text.  Nevertheless, it was from his heart.  You could hear the crowd's shock when they heard Bobby say that King was dead.  He then added, "For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling.  I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man."

Bobby also spoke of a mentor of his, "My favorite poem, my—my favorite poet was Aeschylus, and he once wrote:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God."

Two months later, Bobby was killed on June 6, 1968.  With his death a large part of America lost a leader and a sense of hope.  It seemed to me that America was a ship without a rudder and a captain.  I had just graduated from graduate school and had planned to go to New College at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland for a year of post-graduate studies.  I was glad to leave America for that academic year. 

All my hopes for America had been dashed.  The 60s were a time to address civil rights issues and other issues facing us in the world, like Vietnam.  However, my leader and mentor was gone.  I wondered how long our country could continue as a nation.  In a handful of years, a president was shot and killed, a civil rights leader was shot and killed, and Bobby was shot and killed.   

However, that was nearly a half century ago.  We are still a nation, but how far have we come?  Another election will be here in just over a hundred days.  One of the candidates wants to block all Muslims from immigrating to America and to surveil those of that faith that are already living in here as citizens.  He doesn't like a judge who was born in Indiana but was ethnically Mexican.  Additionally, he has issues with Mexicans.  He also disses many women, and the list goes on. 

When I was in high school, I was required to memorize  a couple hundred lines of poetry or prose each semester.  At the time, I hated that requirement.  However, in hindsight, it was the best thing that I learned over a half century ago.  One piece of prose that I memorized was the opening paragraph of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

While that single sentence was true about that time period in London and Paris, it is equally true today, " short, the period was so far like the present period...."  Bobby is gone, but his memory continues to reach out to each of us.  What troubles me is that many in Congress and in other parts of our government from the national to the local level aren't standing up.  However, Bobby reaches out to you and to them.  Grab ahold of his hand.

Bobby will lift you up to where we all should be but aren't. 

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I have three suggestions to all of us: be honest, go on a pilgrimage, and listen.

  1. Be honest.  Starting with Congress, our leaders need to address the gun issue or the NRA has taken over governing America.  And they aren't qualified.
  2. Go on a pilgrimage.  In Medieval Europe, pilgrims want on journeys to holy places and shrines.  Today, go on a pilgrimage to 17th and Broadway in Indianapolis.  If you haven't seen the light, you will.
  3. Finally, listen.  Listen to Bobby's speech about the killing of Martin Luther King:

I have used a quote by Bobby as my signature on all my emails for decades.  "Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not."  He has been the mentor to millions; he could be yours also.  Reach out and take hold of his hand.

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