Thursday, June 5, 2008

Profile in Courage

My NPR alarm went off this morning with a story marking today as the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. It painfully repeated the events of the day and brought back a flood of feelings connected to its affect on my young life.

About 3 weeks earlier, my mother had taken us to hear Kennedy's campaign speech in Oregon (a primary he lost). She and her friends had followed the campaign closely and were ardent fans, much in the same way I recalled the adoration of his brother 5 years earlier when I wasn’t too young to recognize a light had been vanquished in the hearts of so many of my elders.

Watching Kennedy on the Capitol steps, I remember thinking he had an unusual accent and was the brownest white man I'd ever seen. When the speech had come to an end, we were unprepared for the crush of the crowd that threatened to trample us small ones for the chance to reach out and shake the hand of the man they saw as the embodiment of long overdue change for a stagnant nation. At about waist-high, I couldn’t see a thing but my arm moved away from my body and I felt the warm, firm, embrace of a hand…then release… then seconds later grip again. I’ve often wondered vainly what sort of energy was passed onto me in that handshake, doubly given, perhaps doubly intended.

Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence. Yet it is the one essential, vital quality of those who seek to change a world which yields most painfully to change.
- Robert F. Kennedy, in a speech in Capetown, South Africa, June 6, 1966.

News of the assassination affected me deeply, sitting glued to the TV, watching the scene played out over and over again, praying for a different outcome. 21st century parents might wonder at a mother who allowed her 10 yr old to be so exposed to such a tragedy but I treasure that complete experience and truly believe it molded quite a large part of my resolve, persistence and courage, particularly in the battle to change the face of HIV/AIDS in the world.

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