- By: Candace McKibben
Memory at its best is faulty. Researchers and scientist tell us that our memory is not nearly as reliable as we imagine it is. Unlike a computer that will store data exactly as it is entered, what is stored in our memory is shaped by many factors and each time we recall a memory, we unwittingly reshape it. This works in our favor sometimes and against us at other times but is true, nonetheless. So when I think about the tumultuous sixties, when I was a child, I wonder about the accuracy of what I recall. What I believe is, as saddened as I was by the deaths of our President John Kennedy, which for me happened when I was in third grade and my beloved teacher, Mrs. Daniels, wept uncontrollably; or Martin Luther King, Jr., whom I saw on television in my home and watched my parents’ shock; the death that impacted me the most then was Robert Kennedy.
It could have been because it was the third death in a series of tragic endings for people who wanted to change the world for the better. It could have been what we call “cumulative grief,” when too many significant losses too close together mount and intertwine and leave us heavy with sorrow. It could have been that he was arguably the least controversial of the three and the cues from adults around me may have been more sympathetic, enlarging my own heart for him. What I believe touched me most was the way he took up the torch of both men and called them both his brothers as he sought to mend the broken hearts and dreams of people across our nation. His humility and vulnerability drew my young heart to him. And when I went to Arlington Cemetery on our ninth grade trip to Washington, DC, I remember being moved by the simplicity of his gravesite there.
Perhaps you heard the recent interview on NPR with a recording of an interview with Lorraine Morris, who at the age of 18 was in the crowd at a rally for Bobby Kennedy in Indianapolis on the night of King’s assassination. She tells of the tears in his eyes and his broken voice as he told the crowd of King’s death. She recalls that he went on to encourage them and the nation to move beyond division and hatred, violence and lawlessness, to embrace love, wisdom and compassion toward each other. Morris says, “He had the love and the care in his voice. He was really hurt also because he, too, lost someone very close. And he was speaking of President Kennedy.”
As we marked the fiftieth anniversary of Bobby Kennedy’s death on June 5th , it is difficult not to compare the division and hatred of his time with our own. While we hope and pray that fifty years later we are a more just society, with love, wisdom and compassion toward each other, we know that we still have miles to go. I read about the young busboy, Juan Romero, who cradled Bobby Kennedy’s head in his hand after he had been shot in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. What he remembers about that tragic night is that Kennedy asked him, “Is everybody OK?” It is what had become most important to Kennedy in his pilgrimage from privilege to concern for the well-being of all in our nation. It is what I hope and pray can motivate us now, going forward, no matter how we remember the past.