April 7, 2008
Contemplating the '60's.
Forty years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated
motel balcony in Memphis, in that long ago period known as
60's," a time when the world seemed pregnant with hope.
also a time when hope was offset by a vicious spirit that
the land, murdering young people who went south to register
It was the vicious that killed John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther
King, and Robert Kennedy. It seemed that whenever some one
reached out and called the best from us and to whose words
responded, they were, literally, shot down.
We now know all these men were flawed; they had their foibles
vices. They also called out to us to be better than we were,
give more, to do more, to love more and to reach for what
seem unattainable - like reaching the moon, eradicating racial
inequality, erasing poverty. Their words resonate down the
valleys of time and will be part of the history of this country.
In the intervening years there has not been another trio
like those three; there hasn't been even one single individual
spoke or inspired as these men did. Nor have any men or women
come along who have caused in their wake the kind of social
changes these men did.
The Peace Corps was formed by JFK and legions of young Americans
went out to do good. In medical school my brother enlisted
Air Force, to enter when he left his internship. He got a
grace and went to Honduras and ran a clinic for children,
along his wife and daughter. A Christmas visit to him changed
way I looked at the world forever.
We reached for the moon and achieved it, driven by the words
John Kennedy, by the spirit he left behind after his
assassination; he left a country with many citizens who wanted
live up to what he showed us we might be.
In the intervening years, it has sometimes seemed we have
way, become indolent, expecting ease as our right, with no
of the common good.
It's not all true.
That came to me Sunday afternoon when I was able to reach
Malone, who thinks of me as his uncle. He is in Zambia, being
rather unsuccessful in agriculture and being very successful
people projects. People are his specialty; he evokes in others
the sense of joy he has in his own life. We spoke for twenty
minutes, mobile to mobile, a feat possible in part to advances
from the space program. I said good-bye only because I suddenly
felt that I would cry - I am very proud of what he is doing
who he is and who he is becoming. He and others are still
there in the far reaches of the earth, doing good. Many Americans
don't even realize there is still a Peace Corps nor that it
more applicants than it can accommodate.
My brother, some years ago, took to returning with medical
to Honduras. Often the two weeks they are on site is all the
medical care that the people get all year.
The most palpable help New Orleans received after Katrina
from the government but from individuals. And friends go again
and again to keep setting right the devastation nature and
government bungling caused.
The spirit of the three men assassinated in the '60's lives
Kevin's actions, my brother's journeys, the work of the Katrina
volunteers. This is the America so few, even at home, see.
That a black man and a white woman - no matter what you think
them - are vying for the Democratic nomination for President
statement of the changes begun in the '60's and now beginning
play out in the political and economic landscape. A wind of
is blowing across the land, a wind that is like a Santa Ana
California, warm and invigorating, fraught with danger.