I was living in Littleton, CO 40 years ago, a young person in the middle of another tumultuous time.
Like the November day in 1963 I remember precisely where I was and what I was doing when word came that another Kennedy had been shot.
Several friends and I had decided to go out to Dairy Queen for ice cream. It was the beginning of Summer. We were just a few days away from the end of classes and were looking forward to the warm days and cool nights of our arid Colorado summers. Dairy Queen: the quintessential 60s hang-out, like A&W, was across the street from another draw - the "slide", a tall and steep metal contraption (actually several of them) that started "rooftop" height and bounced you up and down all the way to the bottom - not quite a two-minute ride. It was new for its time and tame when compared to the thrills of today's amusement parks. It was scary enough for me (most of us, actually) that my heart raced every time I got to the top of and looked down at the shriking world below me.
We decided to get a "dipped cone", sit around in the car and yak, then head over to the "slide" for an early evening adventure. Since curfew was at 10:30 p.m., we only had a couple of hours. The DQ and this local amusement attraction were pretty much always jammed post Memorial Day.
There were five of us that night - the "wallflowers" and "geeks" who (at the time) didn't do drugs, didn't date, didn't party, but still had our own "clique."
This night was especially warm - not so unusual for early June, yet there was a heat and friction in the air, the kind that is often a precursor to a thunderstorm. Still, the skies were star-filled and there was a warm breeze blowing softly through the trees.
Here we were counting down the school year, planning - even if only in our fantasies - the wild adventures we would have as summer rolled out its green carpet and sunlit sky, feeling so free. It was for me one of the best times. All of my senses were alive this night. I felt completely in harmony with everything and everybody around me: a perfect moment in a perfect time. I was preparing to step into the next phase of my life, young adulthood, and all I could see and sense and feel was the golden promise of what lay ahead.
After our DQ/slide adventure came to an end, we made the requisite drop-offs of friends to their homes. Sandy - who drove - dropped me off last.
I opened up the door, walked through the kitchen and into the living room. My parents were watching the news - no surprise. My mom had tears in her eyes. I thought she and dad had an argument. She was very private and always denied the problems they had. But then, I looked over at the television, having heard Walter Cronkite's calm baritone voice as I approached the living room. It didn't occur to me at the time to wonder what Cronkite would be doing on our "local" news, yet I recall even now the dissonance it created.
The words BREAKING NEWS seemed jarringly out of place. They shouted at me across the bottom of the television screen and Cronkite's mustached face appeared to have been "on air" for some time.
Then the camera footage was played. Chaos. Screams. A rush of bodies to the focal point - a man, lying on the floor, blood pouring out of a wound in his head, a restaurant employee cradling him. And then Cronkite's voice: "We repeat. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy has been shot at the hotel where he had just finished delivering his speech after winning the California Democratic primary."
It was the third time in five years. But this time it felt so personal. I had identified with Robert F. Kennedy and his campaign. He seemed so fresh and refreshing, so honest and so compassionate about an invisible-but-growing body: the poor, the disenfranchised, the mothers and the children all across our land who were made visible because of Bobby Kennedy and his campaign. He was the vision we needed to take us from the darkness of Vietnam, two national tragedies, a world that seemed increasingly out-of-control. He was - this young and humble man - a bridge from the deep wounds of our past to a future filled with promise that our world could be, would be different.
And once again another young man who called to "the better angels in our nature" was gone.
I'm not sure, in retrospect, how we survived three assassinations in the span of five years - two of them in the same family. We are, I guess, more resilient than we believe ourselves to be. Youth, especially, has a capacity to heal wounds and salvage sorrow in a way that helps all of us heal, probably because there is the promise of a future that is - individually and collectively - filled with the hope and promise of what can be.
"Abraham, Martin and John" - Dion
Share your thoughts about that day. Where were you when Robert F. Kennedy died? What do you remember from that day? What did RFK represent for you?