1968. A year of loss and hope for me.
One of my losses was my marriage which, after years of rough waters, sunk like the Titanic, unsaveable, destined for a rocky shore.
But one thing I had going for me in my depression was the love of the beautiful young people in my sixth grade class, the fun I had learning with them: writing poetry and prose with them; giving life to characters and situations in social studies with them; playing with numbers in a variety of ways, questioning current events everyday…
Did those young people ever keep alive what little hope I had for anything? They inspired me to “Keep the Faith,” to resist the madness in the war in Vietnam, to forever be “Black and Proud!” and willing to say it out loud.
But sometimes, that year, my personal life would just be too much to bear.
On one of those days I stopped by a bar for “one” drink and, to put it mildly, I far surpassed my goal and left the drinking hole in not the best of shape, drowning in my woes.
I somehow got myself home and turned the television on to the words, “A white man was seen running from the scene,” a murder scene it turned out to be and I wasn’t anywhere near ready to hear that laying dead in that scene was my beloved Martin Luther King.
A feeling of guilt rushed through me, awakening me from my evening of drowning my blues in booze, like a lightning bolt striking me in the face. Guilt because I, irrationally, in my sudden grief, thought that if I had been sound of mind, I might have connected with Martin cosmically, in some way, and shielded him from harm.
Oh, the pain of losing that man was overwhelming. He was synonymous with my people’s hopes and dreams, the heart and backbone of our struggles.
But any notions of hope and the fulfillment of one’s wishes, in those moments, exactly two weeks before my 30th birthday, seemed to be suffocating in the very air that I breathed.
But out of this despair, there came a breath of fresh air, on the same day of the tragedy, from Bobby Kennedy. RFK. Brother of JFK. A man whom I was appreciating more and more each day.
I felt his growth as a human being, how he stepped outside his extremely privileged position in our society to get a feeling for how people of color lived, and how he began addressing the racism he observed.
He learned of Martin’s death just before he was to speak at a political rally in Indianapolis, in a black neighborhood that was considered by the mayor to be too dangerous because of the times.
But he was not deterred and climbed onto a flatbed truck, in cold smoky air, wearing his slain brother’s overcoat, and spoke of the pain he had suffered when his brother was killed and then said to people, who didn’t yet know, that Martin had been shot and killed that night.
And after quieting the loud gasps of shock and angry shrieks of his audience he spoke of how Martin had died because he “dedicated his life to love and justice for his fellow human beings,” and suggested that it was time to ask what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.
“We have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times” he went on to say.
He kept hope alive for me that sad sad day and then two months later his life was taken and my resolve for a better world was horribly shaken.
But then one day, later in 1968, during the Mexico City Olympics, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who had come in first and third in the 200 meters, raised their fists in the Black Power salute, and my feelings of hope rose to the far reaches of the sky.
And my eyes are still on the prize as I’ve learned that losses are no reasons for hope to die.
1968 made me wise.