In the 1960’s and 70’s, it seemed to me that America was quite a hopeful place, with a “can do” attitude. If there was a challenge, we took it up. If there were wrongs, many of us tried to right them. Many of us took up the good fight, some more than others in large or small ways. Civil rights, the Viet Nam war protest, the women’s movement, gay rights, focusing on environment damage were all addressed on a deeply moral and spiritual stage. Thousands of college students drove much of the change with peaceful demonstrations that could not be ignored.
We successfully put men in space and on the moon. JFK said in 1962, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, …because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” That was the attitude of many, a hope-filled striving to lofty goals in many areas of life. People, especially the younger generations, moved out of fixed, rigid ways of thinking and acting and forged new roads for others to follow. They saw what was wrong with our society and could not stand silent with the status quo.
Over the decades since, many Americans have lost that collective spirit of enthusiasm, as some of our leaders, and powerful individuals along with clandestine groups hidden from direct scrutiny, have broken trust and betrayed the American public with multiple actions designed to crush us collectively a bit at a time. We did have many “wins”, but at every turn it did seem that our enthusiasm for fixing things was being beaten back. Yes, many are still winning today.
To me, the first major blow to our collective innocence seemed to be the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, then the assassinations of other forward thinkers like his brother, Robert (Bobby) Kennedy, and Martin Luther King, both in 1968. The collective negative effect on all of us was palpable. Many of us lost our our child-like passion for all possible futures and what each could bring. We mourned as a nation, but never truly recovered.
In 1963, I was watching live coverage of Lee Harvey Oswald, President Kennedy’s suspected killer, being moved to a more secure prison when the unthinkable happened. I was ten years old and saw a him murdered live on TV. My parents flew off the couch. We were all in shock. I can’t remember exactly what my parents did at the moment, but I remember being sent out to play after that, each time they watched coverage of subsequent news reports.
My sister lives up near the Great Lakes. Comparing notes some weeks after 9/11, we’d each had taken off work that morning with an upset stomach, and had both seen the second plane hit on live TV. Such an event, when one cares deeply about humanity, becomes one’s own personal pain. For me, the event didn’t happen to some “people over there”. It happened to a piece of me, to my humanity.
Recovery from such events is possible, and one must get on with life for one’s own survival. But that does not mean one should withdraw from caring about what happens to everyone else. There will be pain. What rankles me most is seeing dismissive, bullying behavior practiced as a sport by our own President, particularly in a time when examples of building bridges for healing would be the moral and loving way ahead.