I remember the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy - not so much the events themselves but the strong feelings they engendered in the adults around me. I was in kindergarten. My father was in Vietnam. My mother had moved back home close to my grandparents who helped her to cope with two young children and the baby who would come in October. Every night we watched Walter Cronkite (we had only one television station). I remember scenes of marches, burning buildings and Lyndon Johnson. I paid special attention to the reports from Vietnam, because I hoped to catch a glimpse of my dad.
I couldn't have known how extraordinary the events of that period were or how they must have seemed to the adults around me. As a child, there seemed nothing unusual. And yet, as "normal" as all the upheaval felt, the assassinations - for they are linked in my mind- seemed terrible and shocking: two good men gone, two body blows in close succession and one question it was impossible for my mother to answer: "Why?"
Children make sense of the world in their own way but that does not mean they don't process events and understand them at some deeper level. The message that I took from those terrible killings was not about violence or hatred but about faith. Not faith in a formal religious sense but faith in the ability of people to shape the world. I grew up with the belief that justice can prevail because we will make it prevail. I believed it, not because of anything I was told but because it was real. No matter what the individuals I met thought about the changing times, there was no doubt that they were changing and that those changes were just.
We live in a time when hope is a wish and real change seems difficult. The events in Arizona have become a cypher for pessimism about the divisions and political challenges we face as a people. I believe we need to heed Martin Luther King's words more than ever. This is lesser-known speech (spotted by my husband who understood its significance before I did) seems apt.
Let us remember and believe that "The arch of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward Justice". . Let us remind ourselves and tell our children how much has changed --still changing since the days when Martin Luther King's speeches sent chills down the spine of a nation. Most of all, let us take heart in the fact that great and just ideas endure in history and that we can make them a reality. Martin Luther King understood this better than anyone.
"How long? Not long!"