Water Man Spouts

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day Letter

{1} "God, whose law it is that he who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God." --Aeschylus

This Memorial Day weekend, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the Kennedy family. In 2003, Thomas Maier published a fascinating book, "The Kennedys: America’s Emerald Kings," which is "a five-generation history of the ultimate Irish-Catholic family." Terry Golway, the co-author of "The Irish in America," noted that, "Thomas Maier reminds us of a story we’ve forgotten. The Kennedys are not simply America’s most famous family. They are an immigrant family, a family that struggled through poverty and oppression on both sides of the Atlantic. "

The news about Ted Kennedy’s health made time stand still for much of our country, and presented the opportunity to recognize how much this man means to us. My young daughters were amazed to hear that he was elected to the Senate before their mother was born. My sons spent time reading about his accomplishments, and we discussed why I believe he is among the most influential politicians in our nation’s history.

A comment by Hillary Clinton brought up the subject of Senator Robert Kennedy’s death, which reminded many progressive and liberal democrats of one of the most painful chapters in their lives. Because the 40th anniversary of his assassination is so close, it is a topic that many of us will continue to think about between now and the first week in June.

I believe that the focus should be on the amazing transformation of Robert Kennedy’s lifetime. I am convinced that the power of the lives of JFK and RFK is the important thing, and that includes being aware of how they viewed the experiences they lived through. There are a number of good books on both JFK and RFK, but one that stands out is "Make Gentle the Life of this World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy," by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy.

Much of Maxwell’s book came from a "day book" that President Kennedy kept, and that Robert continued with after his brother’s assassination. In the introduction to the book, Maxwell notes, "He would quote Aeschylus when he spoke to the poorest audiences that a presidential candidate had ever bothered with, and they cheered."

If we are to learn from Senator Kennedy, I would suggest that we not think that feelings of anger and hostility towards another group of democrats pays proper tribute. We can best honor RFK by attempting to find common ground with others, and working towards the goal of a compassionate society. And that leads us to my favorite RFK quote, which we should all think about this weekend.

{2} "Let us not be discouraged by the belief that there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills – against misery and ignorance, injustice and violence … Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.

"It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." – Robert F. Kennedy in South Africa; June, 1966

There are numerous contributions that we can make this summer and fall that will improve the quality of life in the cities and towns across the country. The range of contributions is large, indeed; however, it does not include insulting others who are attempting to make a contribution different from our own.

In response to Senator Clinton’s remarks, one television journalist said, "This year is already too much like 1968." There are certainly some similarities, and perhaps that allows us the opportunity to look back on that year, which stands out in our nation’s recent history. We have a chance to consider what went wrong, and also what was right.

The anger, fear, and violence was wrong. Let’s not repeat that. But the passion and drive of Senator Robert Kennedy’s brief campaign -- and the ideals of others, from Martin Luther King, Jr., to Eugene McCarthy, to the young people dedicated to changing society, who are remembering things from 40 years past – these are the things we should be concentrating on.
Let’s send millions of ripples of hope and daring, and build the current that RFK spoke of.

Your friend,
H2O Man


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