June 5, 2018
My birthday triggers many emotions and memories: fun, melancholy, nostalgia, sadness, hope, light, love, and joy. My fourteenth birthday will never be forgotten, as long as I have a memory. It was the year that we received notice that my grandfather had another serious stroke, and he died a few days later. It was the year I graduated from 8th grade. It was the year that I received a new baseball glove and a Swiss Army knife on June 5. It was the year my mom invited a few friends over—Al, Kathy, Ricky, and even a few of my sister’s friends—and we had a sweet-smelling, buttercream icing-rich sheet cake and Hawaiian Punch.
Oh, and it was the year that all of that, even though I hold it in my memory, pales in comparison to the news I heard when my clock radio woke me up that morning: Robert Kennedy had been shot. I was the first one up, and I went to my parents’ bedroom and just started talking, not really even bothering to wake them up. My mom thought I must have heard something wrong. She arose, and we listened to my radio. Bobby Kennedy died the next day. Ever since that birthday—one in which I matured more markedly than perhaps any birthday, even though I had and maybe still have a lot of childish playfulness and folly in me—this day intertwines my birthday with the shooting of Robert Kennedy.
Fifty years ago. (Yes, that’s how old I am.) Perhaps it’s the anniversary year of that awful day. Perhaps it’s that I still feel a twinge of guilt for even being happy and celebrating later on that day. I remember crying with my mom that morning, although I couldn’t comprehend the enormity of it then. I remember my dad being distraught and lamenting, which represented a powerful response from Dad.
Why did his reaction affect me so? Dad was super-conservative, but he spoke knowledgeably about Bobby Kennedy and reflected some on JFK. He thought Bobby was more honest and more capable than John. He thought that their assassinations were both tragedies and inexcusable. In fact, he welcomed dialog and debate on ideologies and practices in governance. Not that he had any real influence on many others, but he did on me. I saw his honesty because he could speak with insight and appreciation for those with whom he disagreed. He valued honesty in those who he would normally never have voted for. He valued honesty to such an extent that he told me he had actually voted for a Democrat, “The buck stops here” Harry Truman.
Did it matter that Mom and I wept or that Dad could appreciate and lament the Kennedy’s? As I said, our responses contained no major impact on a political or national scene; however, Bobby Kennedy would have appreciated it. He would have known we mattered. He said this:
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
No, neither my parents nor I have bent history in terms of popular perception. However, I know that I have stood up for ideals, for others, and against injustice. I also know some people would say I have not made the wisest choices, not represented their ideals or met their expectations.
That is neither my nor Bobby Kennedy’s point. I must shine in the energy of who I am, not apologizing nor seeking to please. Those who make the biggest ripples just do their thing in kindness, compassion, love, and enthusiasm. That level of engagement ripples hope, justice, mutual good, and freedom.
Today, I celebrate my birth. I am filled with gratitude for all the memories, the events, and the relationships of my life—including the ones that have not seemed so auspicious, favorable, or beneficial, ones which I helped to create in some way or another.
As I celebrate and remember, I have a few thoughts about reflections. Learning and growth are not usually instantaneous. I need to have distance, space, and time to make meaning. Some people are much faster at this than I am. Today, I reflect on the memories of my parents, my sister, friends, and that birthday of fifty years ago, the one on which Bobby Kennedy was shot.
I think of the Supreme Court decision of yesterday that gave vindication to bigotry in the name of religious rights. That baker in Colorado was not being prohibited from expressing his beliefs, of even preaching the gospel to the two men who requested to buy his cake. He could have done that. He could have told them personally and quietly that he wasn’t comfortable with their lifestyle that expresses their sexual orientation. He could have done many things within the exercise of his religion, but he didn’t. He, along with a large, significant percentage of Americans, believes he is right and that makes everyone else wrong, or even worse, sinners. Therefore, in the opinion of such people, those who disagree don't have a right to live their truth publicly.
RFK had something to say about this extreme, right-leaning energy sweeping across the nation, the energy that embraces some mythical America, that says we annihilate or relegate to convenient shelves those who disagree with us, this energy of totalitarianism and intolerance:
“What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.”
People can voice, stand for, and promote their cause, but when expressions become about silencing those who see things differently, freedom is forfeited, dictatorial authoritarianism is established, and everyone but a select few suffer. Of course, many who support dictators and oligarchs believe they profit in some form or fashion. They label the masses as opponents to “truth,” and they seek to nullify them.
Lest anyone reading this believes America isn’t moving in such a direction today, read Rudy Giuliani’s quotes from the last few days or Trump’s statements about pardoning himself. As I said, such thinkers are dangerous. Oh, RFK said it first. These people wish to return to something that never was, to keep things from changing.
Once again, Bobby Kennedy has words of encouragement. Speaking of moral courage, he says, “Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality for those who seek to change a world that yields most painfully to change.” A president has no immunity for criminal action, this nation was never originally white European, and kindness and human decency don’t take second place to the economy or imagined rights, the kind that say “We get to do what we want, but they don’t.”
My mom’s and dad’s responses to the shooting and death of Robert F. Kennedy illustrate we don’t have to agree with those who hold different views in order to care, truly care, about one another. My parents showed me that day that political beliefs and personal ideologies don’t give anyone the right to do what they want at the expense of “the common good.” The common good isn’t what a dictator and his followers say it is.
We may disagree on immigration policy and quotas, and we may work to establish our beliefs through voting, speaking, writing, or dozens of other ways. But we don’t get to be heartless about separating families in the name of the law and change the law or interpret law to live in personal convenience and wealth over others, oppressing others, disregarding others so we get what we want. The same is true about the environment, treatment of all minorities, economic policy, and scores of social and political issues—ooh, education, I don’t want to forget education.
On my birthday, I choose to reflect not only on my life and my memories but also on the words and life of Robert F. Kennedy. I could just keep sharing and commenting on his words, but I will leave here with these words of his:
“Our lives on this planet are too short and the work to be done too great to let this spirit flourish any longer in our land. Of course we cannot vanquish it with a program, nor with a resolution.
But we can perhaps remember, if only for a time, that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short moment of life; that they seek, as do we, nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and in happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.”
If I forget this, curse me. If you do, I will not curse you, but I will bless as most powerfully as possible those who are not treated as sisters and brothers, those who are withheld from living their lives in purpose and happiness.
Blessings to you on my birthday!
(All Kennedy quotes from https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/98221.Robert_F_Kennedy)
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!