It is Kennedy memorial time again, that yearly remembering of how the young vibrant 35th president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, died in a motorcade in Dallas, and each time it comes around I am thrust back into the days of my growing up. College and Kennedy’s election, the Bay of Pigs and student protests, marches against the war, and the introduction of pot as an alternative to alcohol. We really thought we could change the world, and in many ways, we did.
This past year, Philadelphia seemed to be obsessed with all things 1968 – and that too awakened memories. Walking through the 1968 Exhibit at the Constitution Center, looking at images and artifacts of events I had actually experienced, reminded me of just how powerful those times were. And then, more recently, watching RFK, a revival of a one-man show about Robert Kennedy, another leader we had believed in but never got to see what he could accomplish. Unlike the Kennedys, most of us live on the fringes of history, we are not essential to the events that occur around us, but those events are crucial in shaping our lives and our eventual legacies.
For me, 1968 was the year the young men died – Kennedy, King, Michael (my own personal loss), and countless unnamed others who were each someone’s son, boyfriend, lover, father, friend, dying in a faraway land for a cause most of us no longer believed in. It was a time of chaos and confusion. A time of hope and horror. The death of men far too young to die, the riots of young people in Chicago while business went on as usual in the Convention Center. I wondered how many people I knew in that unruly rabble in Lincoln Park, wondered if I should have been there too, yet relieved ultimately that I wasn’t.