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Friday, October 08, 2004

The Vanishing Boy of Pacific Heights: The Sixties

Since I was born in 1959 and since my parents decided to move to San Francisco in 1963 and since I have two older brothers, I was able to experience the '60s in the manner ABC Sports used to call "up close and personal." I remember watching Lee Oswald being murdered on live TV. I remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. I played softball with Yippies in Julius Kahn playground in the summer of 1969. (Despite their disinclination to use me, I singled to right in my only at bat. Not long afterwards, everybody else got the munchies and went home.)

But enough of my credentials.

Although the right wing commentators would have us believe differently, as a culture, we are still trying to make sense of the time between John Kennedy's inauguration and that lone helicopter lifting off from the embassy roof in Saigon. And while the right wingers do have some valid points to make about the excesses, they miss the good and the point of the good that went on.

In fact, I'm going to come right out and say that I have a problem with PJ O'Rourke and the ilk he represents. In the '60s, when it was hip, they were radical leftists. By the '80s, when it had become hip, they became radical reactionaries. And here's my message to all of them: Hey, according to actuarial tables you dolts have another 20 years coming to you. Still enough time to flip once more. Don't pull a Lee Atwater and wait until you have a brain tumor to come to your senses.

But enough of them. They are intellectual midgets who put more value in being "right" than in gaining wisdom or knowing Truth.

I keep thinking of John, Martin, and Bobby, and each sought to ennoble us--all of us, not just the most affluent or those who subscribe to a checklist of viewpoints. I think that the American liberal experiment that began with the New Deal died on a motel balcony in Memphis and in a hotel kitchen in Los Angeles. The idea that we were a community with common interests died and was replaced by the notion that we are merely a collection of factions with competing agendas.

A Republican President once said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand." (For the record, he was not the current Republican President.) Julius Caesar used "divide and conquer" as the basis for his military theory. And since that horrible spring in 1968, divisiveness has reigned supreme and commonality of purpose has been lost to the mists of time. If the American Experiment is to have any lasting meaning, we have to again understand it as a common enterprise on which we are all embarked.

And I leave you with one final thought: Happy Birthday to John Lennon, wherever you are.


Len said...

The picture, by the way, is of Bobby Kennedy at Kansas State University in March of 1968.

Robert G. Margolis said...

Len, you say I got you started, and now you've got me started, several false starts, to be more accurate. I wanted to say something, worth saying aloud in print here, about the loss of Malcolm X (al-Hajj Malik al-Shabaz), but each time I think about and reflect upon his life, the immense scope of human ignorance and understanding he'd traversed, his multiple awakenings and leaps ever more profound and universal in vision, beginning with his Hajj and his visit to the House (the Ka'aba), then his journeys and conversations in Africa, the Near East, his return to the United States, the astounding exemplar he'd only begun to become--each time I reflect on this, my mourning and grief rises in my throat and I'm at a loss to express the sense of loss I feel.

That's as far as I'm going to get. Sentences start, sputter, stop. The sense of loss defies too easy expression. I invoke salam (peace), rahmah (mercy), and barakah (blessing) upon him, and offer the prayer that his courage, his honesty in seeking the truth, his universal vision, compassion, and deep understanding of human suffering, the suffering of both the oppressed and the oppressor, his humor, his witness, will spark in receptive souls and light them to vocations that make them vessels of salam, rahmah, and barakah for all. Amin.

Len said...

Robert, I agree completely. We can only wonder at the heights Malcolm would have achieved. What we lost on that February afternoon in 1965 is incalcuable. Well said.