Forty Years On: Remembering Bobby Kennedy

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Thanks to Mark for recommending Mustang Bobby's moving piece on Bobby Kennedy. If you haven't already read it, do so now. I did and was inspired to recall how I felt that morning after Kennedy was shot.

I, too, was 15 that year. And for me, the election of 1968 was the first presidential campaign that I had an emotional attachment to. Back then, I backed McCarthy because I felt Kennedy was too opportunistic -- you know, he was the "ruthless" Kennedy. Bobby even joked about it in his speeches.

I remember watching the last Kennedy-McCarthy debate which happened on the weekend before the California primary. I watched that debate with my dad. During that telecast, one of the moderators asked each candidate about their support for Israel. Kennedy stated that it would be his policy to continue the sale of arms to the Jewish state. I remember my father saying, that night, that it was a position that would not be popular with Arabs. That all came back to me when I heard Bobby had been shot by Sirhan Sirhan

I went to bed on the night of the California primary without knowing what the final tally was. So when I woke up in the night at 3am (something I still often do) I remember switching on the radio and hearing a report -- in mid-sentence -- that doctors were attending to Sen. Kennedy who had been shot and was in critical condition. Even today, I can't find the words to express how bleak I felt on hearing that news.

Later that morning, as I rode the city bus to school, I remember standing next to a woman, seated quietly, her head hung down, hands folded in her lap. I watched her tears falling, drop by drop, from behind her sunglasses.

I also remember, several days later, watching Ted Kennedy's moving eulogy of his brother, his voice quavering, on the verge of breaking down, then gathering strength and continuing on despite his heartbreak:

My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be rememberd simply as a good decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

Many years later, on a trip to DC, I visited Arlington Cemetery. I visited the familiar and dramatic set-piece that is the JFK family grave site. If you have only seen pictures of it, you are missing the grandest part of all -- the view out over the Potomac River and across the mall. You can literally see for miles. It is a breathtaking view of Washington.

But around the corner, a short walk away, is the grave site of Bobby Kennedy. It is a totally different experience. Robert Kennedy's grave sits by itself, marked with a single white cross and a small, gravestone lying flat on the ground. It is surrounded by green grass. On the other side of the walk is a low fountain, more of a basin than anything else.

Carved into the walls surrounding the fountain are words from a speech that Kennedy gave in Indianopolis on the evening that Martin Luther King was shot and he had to tell the crowd that Rev. King was dead. Among those words were these from his favorite poet, Aeschylus:

In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.

Only in the decades since Kennedy's passing have I come to realize how unique and special he really was.

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