There are moments in your life for which you always remember where you were and what you were doing. Like Pearl Harbor was to my parents' generation, and 9-11 to more recent generations, the Kennedy and King assassinations were not just historical events. They were personal - part of our lives - especially since their words live on and resonate in our lives.
I don't have a specific memory about Martin Luther King, though I love to read his speeches - such passion! I don't have a specific memory about JFK, though again his words invigorated a nation and called us to a better place. And though I don't recall hearing Bobby Kennedy speak, I remember very vividly where I was the night he died. It was 45 years ago this week.
The summer of 1968 my parents and I traveled from Oregon down to Arizona to pick up my youngest sister, Betty, after she finished her freshman year at the University of Arizona in Tucson. We did a day trip to Nogales, including my first foray into Mexico, and then returned to Tucson. While we were resting at a little motel we heard the news on the radio that Bobby had been shot. The next day we traveled several hours north to the town of Cottonwood and stayed the night with family friends. It was there that we heard the news that Bobby had died (it was 26 hours from when he was shot till he was pronounced dead).
In the years since I have learned and read more about Bobby and John and Martin and though all three were flawed, they spoke to the better part of us, inspiring us to rise above the ordinary and challenge the status quo. They accomplished much in their all-too-short lives. They were masters at persuasion and focused on being "for" things, not just "against" wrong. We really need more people like them today and we need to remember their words.
As the late Teddy Kennedy said in his eulogy of his older brother Bobby, "My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world." Teddy strove to live out his brother's legacy.
And he closed with words that I have taken as a mantra: "Some men see things as they are and say why?. I dream things that never were and say why not?" I believe we need a little more "why not?" thinking today.
text of Edward Kennedy's eulogy of his brother Robert