Had he lived, Robert Francis Kennedy would be 86 years old today. Perhaps like his brother before him, would also have been a U.S. President and an Elusive Hero. Robert Kennedy, on April 4,1968 in Indianapolis on the campaign trail, upon learning of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, spoke to the crowd gathered before him, and, like a good enough therapist or parent, put himself in the shoes of an other when he said, “For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling.”
As many that night had shown up with intent to avenge the murder of their beloved spokesperson, it was this empathic attunement which, I believe, circumvented in Indianapolis the violence that erupted in other U.S. cities. By acknowledging, understanding, and accepting such a feeling for himself, noting that he, too, had had a family member killed, the crowd knew that it had been heard and so action as attempt to be understood was not necessary. More than mere empathy, Kennedy, offering himself in communion with their sorrow, offered an alternative that might be shared by all “people who love peace all over the world.” That alternative was “love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black,” claiming that “the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land.”
In this same address, Robert Kennedy said,
“My favorite poet was Aeschylus. He wrote:
‘In our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.’ ”
Sometimes I find the work that we do is also through awful grace.