I’m coming to the end of The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 days that inspired America. This is not the type of book I read, usually, but it was required for a class I’m taking. It is breathtaking. Literally.
I’m struck by how much I do not know about the world I grew up in. I was still 5 years old on April 4, 1968. By June 4, I had turned 6. I think I now understand why it was so hard for some of my teachers to talk about “history” let alone teach it. I think I understand why I was voted the “campus liberal” in sixth grade. I think I understand, too, why I wore it as a badge of honor (the spirit, I believe, in which it was given) while others sneered at it. I understand, now, how much I do not know about despair, about loss, about a dream of what might have been. What could have been. What very nearly was. And then was not.
Reading this book over the last few weeks has, perhaps, colored how I have felt listening to the McCain/Palin campaign during this same time period. What does it mean to be a patriot? What does it mean to be a “real” American. I watched the Daily Show last night and the visceral response to how they processed Palin’s remarks about “real Americans” was new to me. What must it mean to be a New Yorker who lost friends, family, who knew the firefighters and police officers who raced up the steps while others were coming down–what must it feel like to have someone accuse you of not being American enough because of where you live, not how you live or who you impugn.
Only a few more pages to read in this book. Forty years later, and I already know how it ends. Oh, do I know how it ends–and how that ending continues.
I’m not one to say “God bless America.” It’s not part of my vernacular. But here, I’ll say a prayer for my country:
God, help us. Help us see with a wider vision, a vision drawn from empathy, a vision that wells from the depths of our hearts. Help us see that patriotism, itself, is a blinding force–a circle we draw to exclude. Help us all, dear God, even those of us who believe we are “inclusive” learn to love the ones we think don’t “get” it, don’t understand it, may not even seem loveable. Let us draw the circle to include them. We can do nothing about their vision, can we, God. Help us, God. They can call us unpatriotic, they can even say we do not love America, but help us remember that love shows itself in many ways. To what do we pledge allegiance, God? To you? To country? To the people within it? I will pledge my allegiance to Love, dear God, and hopefully grow old knowing that that, indeed, was enough.
I do not ask you to bless this nation, oh my God, who receives pleas too numberous to count, from bumber stickers and presidents and candidates alike. In fact, I think I ask nothing at all–except this, this prayer that is the practice of remembering that Love is what I owe my allegiance to. Love and the notion that we are all in this together and whatever we can do to help each other, well, that’s patriotic enough for me, and, I hope, for You, as well.