Sunday, January 4, 2009

Reading a Book Whose Ending You Dread.

Those of us who lived through the 60's still have a place in our soul that was cracked wide open by the killings of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy.

In November our son, Nathan, gave me Thurston Clark's wonderful book about Bobby Kennedy's campaign for president in 1968. "The Last Campaign" is a great book. What Kennedy had to say about Vietnam sounds right on target with events in Iraq. His concern about crumbling cities, the devastation caused in the human spirit by poverty, failing education systems, and the divisions between us, ring so true today!

Kennedy visited the Mississippi Delta in April 1967 with a congressional sub committee looking into reports of starvation among black sharecroppers. Reporters were left outside when Kennedy entered a windowless shack "reeking of mildew and urine." A mother and six children were living there. A two-year old girl with a distended stomach lay on the floor, surrounded by cockroaches, playing with a single grain of rice.

Kennedy knelt down, stroked her hair, and whispered, "Hello...Hi, baby." Bobby realized the little girl was so weak from hunger she couldn't respond so he picked her up and began rocking her. He kissed her. A little boy came in and sat down on a grimy bed. Kennedy sat next to the boy. Tears streamed down his cheeks.

When Kennedy returned to his home in suburban Virginia, he told his children, "Do you know how lucky you are? Do something for your country?"

What's funny is I remember resenting Bobby Kennedy's entry into the presidential race. I thought he was late to the game. I thought he was an opportunist. I thought he was trading on his late brother's popularity.

When he was taken from us, though, I felt the hope draining out of me. I felt like our nation had suffered a great loss. One we continue to live with today.

The book is so well-written! Still, I find myself avoiding it. Because I know how the story ends. I know the story ends on a hotel kitchen floor in Los Angeles. So have to work to open the work...make my way towards the last chapter.

Maybe the story doesn't end on the floor of a kitchen hotel in Los Angeles in 1968. Maybe the story still goes members of this generation see the challenges. Refuse to settle for injustice. Call our nation to greatness by proclaiming good news to the poor and release to the captives.

Suppose it is possible a new generation could hear the voices of the prophets, of people like Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, and finish the story in a new way?

No comments: