Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Great Men and Archetypes

In one week we will mark the 44th anniversary of Robert Frances Kennedy’s untimely and grotesque death. I was a young woman when he was assassinated. I wasn’t yet old enough to vote - you had to be twenty-one back then. I was volunteering in Denver in one of his presidential campaign offices with three other women that night when we got the news on the radio that he had been shot in the head like his brother the President of the United States, John Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King, shot in the face two months earlier. Goddess, it was a season of death, and we all tried to wrap our minds around another atrocity – a third great man felled by some monster with a gun where his humanity should be.

Sobbing and chocking on our tears we started moving campaign literature from table to table aimlessly. One of the women sunk to her knees, and another woman and I got her up and into a chair. It seemed like a long time, but it couldn’t have been, before my over protective Italian father, Goddess bless him, called and said, "You are coming home now. Tell the ladies that you are locking up, and I am taking them home too." No one argued with my dad, and home we went.

It was a beautiful, silky June evening and there was no one in the streets of Denver. No kids were playing; no young guys were showing off their hotrods; no Italian ladies were sitting on their porch gossiping. A vibrant ethic neighborhood had simply ceased to exist as time stopped and the Earth halted in its orbit. Bobby died the next morning as we knew he would, and time came back with the spinning of the Planet from night into day. We had lost something in the emptiness of no time and nonexistence. Something we never got back.

Still, I often think of Bobby when I see President Obama. Some say he reminds them of John, but for me he is closer in style and temperament to Bobby with his graceful power and gentle determination.

Some leaders rise to the level of archetype in their own lifetime. Robert Kennedy did. I can’t look back on the youth and promise of the Kennedy Camelot without seeing him in front of me. He was Lancelot without the flaws and Galahad without the crippling inhibitions. He carried the glowing Grail within his heart, and when he died he released so that all of us could find it in our own way.

When I think of him I remember what he said on the night Dr. Martin Luther King went to join the angels he so often walked with. Bobby quoted a poem by Aeschylus, his favorite poet. I never could stand the Greeks myself, but the lines that follow are metaphor for the 1960’s and the struggle we waged in the shadow of the specter of murder, secure in our belief in a light at the end of the tunnel – the Grail shining with hope and change.

“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.”

I can’t believe that we have lost the wisdom. I can’t believe that some people would have us wage the struggle all over again. I can’t believe anyone can fail to see Bobby’s light, his Grail, in President Obama’s hand.

The rose featured here is “Remember Me.”

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