My hero now and forever.
Was it a middle school crush? Maybe. But then, it was so much more than that.
I was in 7th grade when the hopes and dreams we had for our nation, one that was ripping apart in front of our eyes, with an unwinnable war at our doorstep, came crashing down in an instant.
A gun-related instant.
We were a family that talked politics over the table. As early as I remember, I was hearing about Kennedy and Nixon. And our Catholic president won and all was right with the world. And he had little kids. Camelot.
In 3rd grade, that dream came crashing down. I was a bit young to understand fully, although the sadness that permeated our home for days was very real.
Then Bobby came along. Long after he was an attorney general known for his aggressive belligerence. Long after he was just the brother in place because of nepotism.
Having suffered his own dark night of the soul after losing his brother John, he was a new person. A changed man. He had compassion. He had courage. He reached out to the disenfranchised. He spoke about the things that mattered.
He stood up against Vietnam, forcing Johnson’s hand. LBJ could do nothing but say, No, not me, never again. Find someone else to be president.
That was March 30, 1968.
April 4th. Bobby on a plane for a campaign stop to Indianapolis. A crowd waits at the airport. He delivers the news about King’s assassination. A speech he had to prepare on the fly, but one that is said to have quelled Indianapolis and prevented the riots that took place in every other city that night.
Yeah. That kind of leader. That kind of man.
Standing with the farm workers. No talk about building a huge wall to keep them out.
Standing with those who still were denied civil rights. Seeking real answers.
Standing against violence in what I still consider the premier speech ever given in this country. (Video with his voice giving the speech “Mindless Menace of Violence” below.) A speech that still matters — every word of it — today. Still applies. Knowing that speech was given in the very city I lived in at the time makes it even more poignant to me.
The Sunday before that fateful Tuesday night, we had discussed the likelihood of Bobby getting the Democratic nomination. There were plenty of others in the field, so it wasn’t a sure thing. I still remember our excitement over the prospects of something real happening in a time of turmoil. We wanted Bobby to go all the way. It was looking possible.
I was not yet awake that Wednesday morning when my brother came in the early morning hours to tell me what had happened in California. The light from the hallway shone into my room. His somber tone still rings in my ears.
I immediately came downstairs, even though it was still dark out. We stared at the news. It was all so unbelievable. I was in a fog for days. The funeral came. His brother cried as he gave the eulogy. The last brother.
Bobby’s children. One on the way. Heartbreak beyond measure.
Then the train. His casket brought from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City to Arlington in D.C. Thousands lined up to honor a man that gave us something that was forever lost.
The summer saw more riots and chaos. We watched in the evening, nibbling powder sugar donuts, gathered around the television together. Watching the Democratic Convention was what we did. The fact that a lot of the news was on the streets of Chicago, with fighting and arrests, well, it was just another day in America. What would happen in the convention hall wasn’t going to save us anyway.
Nothing was ever the same. Not for me. I want to hope again like that. I hear it in Bernie Sanders. I see it in the enthusiasm around him. But I’m afraid. I’m afraid to hope again.
Bobby was the whole package. I won’t even let myself think about how different everything would have been if he had been able to live and complete his mission.
In my young life, he was a hero. He remains so because I never had to watch him fall from grace, like so many others.
In his assassination, he was raised. And there he will stay. Always.