This morning as I watched President Obama give an incredibly moving eulogy for Beau Biden, I couldn’t help but think of another political family that has also had to shoulder more than their fair share of grief. That’s because today is the 47th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy.
For an awful lot of people who were young, energized liberals back in 1968, it was on this day that hope died. After the death of his brother, “Bobby” Kennedy had done some soul searching and emerged as someone who could finally lead this country where it needed to go. His loss was devastating.
It is hard not to wonder how this one man’s death changed the trajectory of our country. Many times over the last few years I’ve gone back to his speech the day after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination (and a short 2 months before he died) and wondered where we might be today if we had heeded his words back then.
Too often we honor swagger and bluster and the wielders of force; too often we excuse those who are willing to build their own lives on the shattered dreams of others. Some Americans who preach nonviolence abroad fail to practice it here at home. Some who accuse others of inciting riots have by their own conduct invited them.
Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear; violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleaning of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul…
When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies – to be met not with cooperation but with conquest, to be subjugated and mastered.
We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community, men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear – only a common desire to retreat from each other – only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force…
We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of all. We must admit in ourselves that our own children’s future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge…
But we can perhaps remember – even if only for a time – that those who live with us are our brothers, that they share with us the same short movement of life, that they seek – as we do – nothing but the chance to live out their lives in purpose and happiness, winning what satisfaction and fulfillment they can.
Surely this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men and surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our hearts brothers and countrymen once again.
While many people lost all hope with the death of this great man, The Rascals decided to go a different route. Immediately after Bobby’s assassination, they wrote and recorded a song titled “A Ray of Hope” that was dedicated to his brother Ted, who passed that baton on to another guy (whose been sounding many of the same themes) before he passed away.