Friday, June 06, 2008

Bobby's Legacy

Last Sunday morning I indulged in the rare treat of sleeping in. The sun had filled our bedroom with its warming rays by the time I finally started moving toward consciousness. Hot, sweaty and almost awake, I was swept into a memory of another steamy June morning long ago. It was unusually warm for late spring. Sometime during the night I had launched the bulk of the covers off my bed and onto the floor. The single sheet that remained was tangled around my feet and I was wrestling with my growing consciousness to stay in the land of slumber for a few minutes more.

The battle ended when my mother poked her head into my bedroom.

"I'm afraid I have some terrible news." she said. "Robert Kennedy was shot last night."

I shuddered with a sudden chill and grabbed the sheet at my feet and wrapped it around me. I turned on my clock radio only to hear that Kennedy had died. I lay on my bed, swaddled in my white sheet, crying like an angel who had fallen to earth. It was June 6th, 1968.

It was too much to bear. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated only a few months earlier. As a young Canadian teenager I had idolized both of them. They had brought hope to the turbulent adolescent world of the 60s and suddenly they were gone, along with the innocence of the Flower Power generation.

It has been 40 years since that fateful June day. That idealistic teenage girl has become a middle-aged woman. The hopes and dreams of my youth have been replaced by the more mundane goals that maturity brings. And then I hear Dr. Martin Luther King's voice, or see images of Bobby on the campaign trail, and I realize that it is perfectly appropriate that I should recall their deaths in a memory of heat and restlessness.

Kennedy and King brought a new fire and energy into our world. They both played an integral part in ending an era of blind prejudice and injustice that was the status quo in the early 1960s. They made us believe that one individual can make a difference and that the world is only as good as we choose to make it.

Today we face another crisis. In Bobby's day, it was about social and economic justice. Today, it's about the survival of the planet. And yet there are very uncomfortable similarities. We are at the root of the problem. To borrow a slogan from the 60s, "We are the people our parents warned us about."

Climate change threatens all life as we know it. Even as our resources dwindle, we clamor for more, better and different stuff. It is our greed, not our need, which brings us ever closer to ecological collapse. According to the United Nations, a mere 20 percent of the world's population consumes 86 percent of the world's resources. Canadians are a part of that privileged 20 percent minority. We've become so comfortable that we don't even feel the heat anymore. Central air conditioning in our homes, our offices and our cars keeps us cool and calm. Steamy, restless nights have been replaced by climate-controlled comfort. It doesn't matter that the energy we use to create this comfort comes at great cost to the environment and to the vast majority of the people on this planet.

Earlier this week, several news programs recalled the beauty of Robert Kennedy's dream and that old restlessness began to stir. Despite all that we have lost, I am reminded that where there is life there is hope. Being inspired to action by his words now, even 40 years later, keeps his memory and his dream alive.

In recent years, his remarkable son and namesake, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., has emerged as a strong environmental leader who was recently named, "Hero for the Planet." Bobby's spirit is with us still.

40 years ago on the campaign trail, Bobby Kennedy's rallying cry was a quote from George Bernard Shaw who wrote, "Some men see things the way that they are and ask, 'Why?' I see thing the way they could be and ask, 'Why not?'"

Why indeed.


King and Kennedy are so much more than fallen heroes of another era. Their words are as inspiring today as when then first spoke them. To find out more about the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visit For more on the life of Robert Kennedy, visit

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Blogger Barry said...

Beautifully written and very sad.

I stayed up to hear Bobby Kennedy's speech that night but went to bed the minute it was over and didn't learn of the shooting until the next day when I turned on the radio.

I listened to the clips of his speeches in the recent movie "Bobby" and felt again the weight of all we lost that day.

June 10, 2008 10:09 AM  

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