Sunday, November 21, 2010

The clusters of teachers huddled in the hallways as we came in from recess were nothing new. That they stayed there so very long after the bell had rung had happened before as well. Last time they had whispered to each other; the words inaudible but the tone of worry obvious.

But the stifled sobs were something we hadn't heard before...the wiped tears as our teacher came into the classroom and dismissed us for the afternoon. There was no doubt for any of us that something was wrong.

Last time I had walked to our babysitter's house to find her husband there, slightly snockered, telling her how we were all going to die from the radioactive fallout of the missiles that were going to hit the SAC base at Omaha, Nebraska and the Air Force base at Topeka, Kansas. I didn't really understand the Cuban Missile Crisis at 6 going on 7, but the fear of every adult in my life was palpable.

This time I didn't know what to expect...

But the last thing I expected was to walk in the front door of the babysitter's to see Walter Cronkite removing his glasses as he announced the death of John F. Kennedy. The lump still rises in my throat these many years later, and the tears still well in my now old eyes.

I told someone not long ago that sometimes I think I've lived through too many events like this. Too many times the vise has gripped my heart and extracted its price. Still, though you'd think I'd be smart enough to steel my heart against the horrors wrought by human against human, I've never been able to.

Not so many years later, I was invited to attend a summer band camp at the University of Kansas. My first extended trip away from home, my mother lectured me all the way there about do's and don'ts and not "disappointing" my parents. As we arrived she finally stopped and I turned on the radio.

The announcers were discussing the death of Robert Kennedy, early that morning. In my luggage was his book "To Seek a Newer World", my first "venture" into modern political thinking. Fueled by all I was seeing on television of the Vietnam War and the protests; the race riots both on television and at home in Kansas City following the murder of Martin Luther King, I had heard Kennedy reading a bit of one piece of it and was spellbound by not just his voice, but by the words he spoke; by the heart that spoke through them.

I've written before of that feeling of a bright burning flame that was dimmed to a flicker that day. Of the spirit of "can" and "can do" drowned out by the voices of selfishness; of greed; of dividends and tax-cuts.

I've seen the America I grew up believing in reduced from a country that was "ours" to "mine". A place for "everyone", to a place for "us".

I've watched as those I served with gave their all off the coast of Vietnam; I've mourned as they died in their barracks in Lebanon, on rescue missions in the desert of Iran, or while in peaceful harbor aboard the USS Cole. Never "ours to question why", history will judge some of those who spilled their blood much more harshly than they could ever dream.

I've watched as the nation that (justly) pursued, prosecuted and executed war criminals for waterboarding civilians turned her back on history; on all that was good and just about her self, and did the very same thing to others...

On this sad anniversary, I look back and wonder how different things could have been...

And I wish, sometimes, I could close my eyes, for just a little while...

I'm tired of seeing train wrecks!

May the week be kind to each of you!

And on Thursday, whether you celebrate the holiday or not, I'll be giving thanks for each who find their way here!



zilla said...

I hear you loud & clear, and I'm thankful for you.

Connie in FL said...

Brilliantly written, as usual!

I was in Mrs. Stafford's class... 8th grade English. They started broadcasting the radio through the PA. The school was so quiet... whispering and soft crying. The busses lined up to take us home early. The next few days a blur of TV coverage. So sad.

Robert Kennedy was shot two days before I graduated from High School. I was shocked and stunned. His posters covered my bedroom walls. He died on graduation day. The only one I thought left who could save our country. Maybe I was right.

Kelly said...

I wasn't born yet but I too often wonder how things would be different today. My Mom can remember the exact details of what she was doing at the time of the deaths of both great men.

I can only think of one moment in my life where I remember every single detail and that was the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. I was in 10th grade biology class in Clearwater, Florida.

Thanks for sharing this and I just talked to my Mom as I was writing this. She did remember that tomorrow was the day JFK was shot.

sttropezbutler said...

Cheers Alan and a wonderful holiday to you and yours!


Dr. Deb said...

It's true. So many of us have lived through or witnessed tragedy. Sometimes it's just too much.

Take care, my friend.

robin andrea said...

Oh Alan, this is so beautifully written. We've walked the same path, although always thousands of miles apart. The heartbreak our generation has known is almost unfathomable. We watched our country be torn apart, and the damage wrought then still haunts us. Perhaps we never quite recovered as a nation from those days.

I hope your Thanksgiving was a joyous celebration.

Green Tea said...

That was a very sad day and I will always wonder what the world would have been like if he and Bobby ( my hero) had lived.

Debbie K said...

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.
Your wise words touch hearts & minds all over the world.
Bless you
Debbie x