Reading time – 1:21; Viewing time – 2:09 . . .
Chris Matthews’ new book about Bobby Kennedy ends with the words of John Glenn, former astronaut and senator from Ohio, relating his taking Kennedy’s children to their home following the assassination of their father and staying the night with them. He found himself in Kennedy’s study and saw on his desk a collection of poems and essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson, a couple of which Kennedy had marked in the margin. Emerson wrote,
“If there is any period one would desire to be born in, is it not the age of Revolution; when the old and the new stand side by side and admit of being compared; when the energies of all men are searched by fear and by hope; when the historic glories of the old can be compensated by the rich possibilities of the new era? This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it [emphasis added].”
Surely, ours is a time of revolution, a time of massive upheaval in our country and the voices of change are loud and intractable. Oddly, the voices resisting the din of the revolutionaries aren’t embedded in the status quo, but instead are calling for their own change. Returning to the way we were seems to be dissatisfying to all.
That, then, focuses us on Emerson’s final sentence: “This time, like all times, is a very good one if we but know what to do with it.” Who, indeed, has what it takes to declare, “THIS is what we will do with it”? I don’t think a hate-filled, exclusionary specter will do, nor do I believe that just being against things is adequate. Our times call for wisdom in the face of our daily cacophony. We need a visionary who can see both the forest and all the trees, who can make sense of our reality and show us the better tomorrow we’ll build together. Then, in Emerson’s words, we’ll know what to do with it.
The other passage Kennedy had marked in his copy of Emerson’s poems and essays is critical to our time and will remain so:
“Always do what you are afraid to do.”
Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we’re on a path to continually fail to make things better. It’s my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That’s the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.
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Copyright 2019 by Jack Altschuler
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