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Grief And Joy, 50 Years On

General Ideas

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.  



Note:  Part of this essay is an excerpt from my 2013 book Collapsing Consciously: Transformative Truths For Turbulent Times

I will never forget the night of April 4, 1968 on which Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered in Memphis. The African American community in the United States was simmering and frequently erupting with rage at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. At that very moment, Senator Robert Kennedy was in Indianapolis, Indiana campaigning to become the next President of the country. Kennedy was passionate about ending racism and bringing justice to all minorities. He instinctively realized that when the news of King’s death reverberated throughout the country, an enormous retaliation from the black community would be likely. Kennedy was made aware of the assassination of King before the media had disclosed it, and with great skill and compassion, he announced it to the African American audience to which he had been speaking—extemporaneously and without a speech writer.


Five years earlier, Robert Kennedy’s brother, President John Kennedy, had been assassinated, and subsequently, Robert was driven to deep introspection and contemplation which ultimately compelled him to run for President and to attempt to set the country on a steadfast course of justice and non-violence. In the spirit of the fallen Civil Rights leader, on that warm spring night in Indianapolis, Kennedy pled for calm, restraint, and non-violence and ended his remarks with the above extraordinary quote from Aeschylus.


Over the years I have found myself pondering these two sentences by the immortal author of timeless Greek tragedies. I invite you to do likewise, without attempting to analyze the words or the author, but to allow the exquisite poetry of them to wash over you like water and notice what happens.


Whatever one thinks of the Kennedy Dynasty, Bobby Kennedy experienced a profound transformation as a result of his brother Jack’s death and Bobby’s ability to allow the pain to fall drop by drop upon his heart. The grief he refused to push away led him into hours of deep reflection as well as social justice activism in which he truly listened to and began to organize on behalf of the poor until he was murdered on June 5, 1968 under circumstances as sketchy as those that killed is brother. In 1968, America went insane. The Vietnam War, the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., outbreaks of racial unrest and violence, the unspeakable brutality at the Chicago Democratic Convention, and the election of Richard Nixon. We ranted and raved and swore that everything we were experiencing was unprecedented—it had never happened before, and things would never be this bad again. We had no idea what “bad” was or what “unprecedented” would look like 50 years later. I remember the despair I felt 50 years ago on the night of June 5. On that night, I decided to leave the Midwest and move to California to follow Bobby in his activism. My time there was short, and I would soon be back in Michigan, finishing my college education and getting progressively more radicalized in the process.

This past weekend, the Class of 2018 graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. What would normally be a time of ecstasy and endless graduation partying was subdued by the pall of the absence of the students who could not be there because they are dead. For this year’s graduates, 2018 was really, really bad and really, really unprecedented. Yet through their tears and their trauma, many from the Class of 2018 are launching a summer tour funded by hundreds of parents and families across America who support the Never Again activists of Parkland. They have survived horrific violence, and who knows if they will encounter it again as adults in a society that grows more brutal by the day. Wisdom has already come to them and through them by way of the trauma of violence. No one would have championed their cause more than Bobby Kennedy.

Fifty years later, I’m still grieving his death and at the same time, I’m exhilarated by the Parkland Class of 2018 and this new generation of activists. Through my grieving that has lasted 50 years and the resplendent light of these Never Again millennials, I pray for wisdom–for myself and for a culture that has irredeemably lost its way as pain falls drop by drop upon our hearts.

10 Comments on "Grief And Joy, 50 Years On"

  1. JuanP on Tue, 5th Jun 2018 7:34 am 

    This graduates are nothing more than a bunch of unrealistic kids and their tour will achieve absolutely nothing. I envy people who can fool themselves into believing that their actions are relevant in any way. The USA will continue having regular school shootings; it is part of America’s culture. The year 1968 was the year the USA lost its last chance to ever become a decent country. Look what we have become instead: humanity’s septic tank! Fuck, this is depressing!

  2. Sissyfuss on Tue, 5th Jun 2018 2:23 pm 

    Juan, those children have just had their first taste of the awful grace of God. In time they will have acquired the degree of acceptance that we old farts have cultivated. Or hopelessness if that be the case.

  3. Sissyfuss on Tue, 5th Jun 2018 2:25 pm 

    And RFK had to be silenced if the darker angels of our mercies were to gain control.

  4. Fred on Tue, 5th Jun 2018 3:44 pm 

    Hey JuanP,

    It’s true that young peoplle are exactly that: young. If we don’t trust them that following their hearts is the right thing to do, what chance will they have to turn the tide?

    Sure, there’s an endless supply of very depressing matters, however would it be wise to let that define our humanity? And what is the alternative? Extinguish the light in young people’s eyes and turn them into depressed, hopeless and angry people with nothing to loose?

  5. JuanP on Tue, 5th Jun 2018 4:56 pm 

    Hey Fred, I just wish I could stop them from wasting their lives fighting for a lost cause. I was young and foolish once, too, and I wish someone had told me the truth.

  6. Roger on Tue, 5th Jun 2018 9:21 pm 

    Are we looking for truth?

    The Real Reason for School Violence :: Dr. David R. Reagan
    Published on: June 4, 2018 by RRadmin7 Category:David Reagan, General Articles
    Why have our schools become so violent? All across our nation people who are fed up with school violence are demonstrating in behalf of gun control.

    But guns are not the basic problem. I graduated from high school in Waco, Texas in 1956. There were 450 in my graduating class, and on any given day there would be two or three dozen pickup trucks in the school parking lot equipped with gun racks. Many of those racks would contain three guns — a deer rifle, a .22 rifle and a shotgun. Yet, no one worried about some student shooting up the school.

    One of my best friends who is my age grew up in Amarillo, Texas. When he was 14 years old, he rode his bike into town and purchased a rifle. No questions were asked. No background checks were made. The boy wanted a gun, and the store sold it to him.

    A Radical Cultural Shift

    So, what has changed in the 60 years since 1956? There is a poem circulating on the Internet that points to the answer. It has been around since the 1980’s, and the author is unknown. It has been edited many times over the years. The latest edition is produced below.

    The New School Prayer

    Now I sit me down in school,
    Where praying is against the rule.
    For this great nation under God,
    Finds mention of Him very odd.

    If Scripture now the class recites,
    It violates the Bill of Rights.
    And anytime my head I bow
    Becomes a Federal matter now.

    Our hair can be purple, orange or green,
    That’s no offense; it’s a freedom scene.
    The law is specific, the law is precise.
    Prayers spoken aloud are a serious vice.

    For praying in a public hall
    Might offend someone with no faith at all.
    In silence alone we must meditate,
    God’s name is prohibited by the state.

    We’re allowed to cuss and dress like freaks,
    And pierce our noses, tongues and cheeks.
    They’ve outlawed guns, but FIRST the Bible.
    To quote the Good Book makes me liable.

    We can elect a pregnant Senior Queen,
    And the “unwed daddy,” our Senior King.
    It’s “inappropriate” to teach right from wrong,
    We’re taught that such “judgments” do not belong.

    We can get our condoms and birth controls,
    Study witchcraft, vampires and totem poles.
    But the Ten Commandments are not allowed,
    No word of God must reach this crowd.

    It’s scary here I must confess,
    When chaos reigns the school’s a mess.
    So, Lord, this silent plea I make:
    Should I be shot; My soul please take!


    As this poem clearly indicates, the reason for school violence is not guns. The reason is that we have kicked God out of our schools.

    I started public school in 1944, and until I graduated in 1956, we had a daily Bible reading and prayer. We had Easter plays and Christmas pageants. We were taught Christian morals. In fact, one of my English readers in high school consisted of Bible stories with a moral clearly stated at the end of each story. When I graduated from high school, we had what was called a baccalaureate service the day before our graduation ceremony. It consisted of a worship service and a sermon by a local pastor.

    Since that time, our Supreme Court has outlawed Bible reading and prayer in the public schools. It has even declared it to be unconstitutional for the Ten Commandments to be displayed. The Court has also stopped the teaching of Creationism as an alternative to Evolution. In this regard, in the words of Romans 1:18, we as a nation are guilty of “suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.”

    Reaping What We’ve Sown

    When we banned God from our schools and proceeded to teach children that they are descended from apes, why are we surprised when they start acting like wild animals? When we saturate them with violent movies, TV shows and video games, why are we surprised when they resort to violence?

    This nation is raising a whole generation of moral pygmies, and all the gun control imaginable is not going to stop the violence.

    We are reaping what we have sown. Theologians refer to the result as “abandonment wrath” — the kind of wrath exhibited by God when He turns His back on a rebellious person or society, allowing self-destruction.

    We have thumbed our nose at God. We have barred Him from our schools. We have made a mockery of His Word. And He has responded by stepping back, lowering His hedge of protection and allowing evil to run its course.

  7. Sissyfuss on Tue, 5th Jun 2018 9:50 pm 

    Roger, I think the lack of discipline in schools due to overly litigious parents whose perfect little snowflakes are always to respected. I schooled in the 60s and there was always the threat of corporal beat downs if one stepped over the line. And there were no religious overtones anywhere. A pledge of allegiance to start the day was the only political observance . Truly a different time.

  8. Go Speed Racer on Wed, 6th Jun 2018 2:31 am 

    This article sucks.
    How about some real news, like
    about making synthetic crude oil
    using nuclear reactors.

    Or that Trump is being harassed
    by the H.B.I.,
    Hillary’s Bureau of Investigation.

  9. fmr-paultard on Wed, 6th Jun 2018 7:18 am 

    we can turn used sofas into syngas

  10. Go Speed Racer on Wed, 6th Jun 2018 10:19 am 

    If the nuclear reactors will make
    synthetic crude oil (they will)
    then that can be made into NEW sofa’s.

    When the sofa’s get OLD, then we set them
    on fire. A 100% virtuous renewable
    energy source, although does require a
    nuclear reactor to make the crude oil,
    to make the new sofa’s.

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