You might think of me as someone with way-too-much time on my hands, but I spend many hours thinking about time and its passage. And this Christmas Eve I cannot help thinking about Bobby Kennedy. You see, today marks a major milestone as he recedes into history. As far as I can tell, I am the only person out there in the media/internet carnival who has picked up on this, so you'll probably only read about it here. Let me explain:
RFK was born on November 20, 1925. When he died on June 6, 1968, he was exactly forty-two years, six months, and seventeen days old. That was forty-two years, six months and eighteen days ago.
Today, Christmas Eve of all days, will mark the first day in history that Robert Francis Kennedy has been gone from this earth for longer than he walked it.
I tend to get fairly depressed every Christmas (It's an Irish thing, you know?) and this year would have been no exception. But this revelation only adds to my holiday blues. I believe to my core that we would be a better country today had he not been taken from us on that terrible night almost forty-three years ago. I can still remember vividly my father waking up my brother Pete and I with the news, "Senator Kennedy died a few minutes ago." I was in the fourth grade.
He was so unlike the caricature of what we've come to expect from most politicians: his voice was soft and he spoke with a slight lisp. In spite of his much heralded "toughness" there always seemed to be an almost fragile vulnerability about him. When talking to an audience of farm laborers or inner city youth, he could quote George Bernard Shaw or the ancient greek playrights Aeschylus and Sophocles without showing even the slightest hint of condescension. Said his most recent biographer, Evan Thomas:
"He seemed so young when he died. He was young - only forty-two, a year younger than JFK had been upon his election as the second youngest president in the nation's history. But Robert Kennedy somehow seemed younger, more boyish. With his buck teeth and floppy hair and shy gawkiness, he sometimes came across like an awkward teenager. At other times, he was almost childlike in his wonder and curiosity."
He also had the political courage to tell the American people the hard and bitter truths they would have preferred to ignore. During the ill-fated campaign of 1968, during a question and answer session after a speech, a smug member of a mostly college-age audience sarcastically asked the Senator just who he thought was going to pay for all of these proposed programs of his. Robert Kennedy looked the guy dead in the eye and said, "You are."
They just don't make Democrats like that anymore, do they?
To think where we might have gone but for the bullet of one deranged and confused mad man. A second Kennedy administration (which would have ended on January 20, 1977) would definitely have prevented five-and-a-half years of Nixon and Watergate and might very well have prevented the dawning of the insane right wing era that began exactly four years later with the inauguration of Ronald Reagan - and has continued for thirty years - an era which has ruined a country that used to be a nice place in which to live. We are a better people because, for one brief shining moment, Bobby Kennedy walked among us. I wish he had been allowed to stick around, don't you?
On the night of August 28, 1964, at the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, Robert F. Kennedy was greeted by the delegates with a thunderous ovation that lasted almost a half an hour. When the crowd finally calmed down, he paid tribute to his late, martyred brother, dead only nine months. Quoting Shakespeare in a passage from Romeo and Juliet, what he said that evening resonates across the decades. It might also be said for Bobby himself:
When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of Heaven so fine,
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
I, too, am in love with the night. There's a lot to love.
Happy Christmas, everyone.
Robert Kennedy and His Times
by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.
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