When looking at photos of myself as a kid, for a while I see a spark of curiosity that NOTHING could stop. I hung upside down from my swing set and posed like a circus acrobat next to our wading pool. Training wheels didn’t last long on my bike because I learned to ride the bike of the little boy across the street. Yep, a boy’s bike. I was outgoing and creative to the point of bossy. Once, while the neighborhood kids and I were pretending to live in the Old West, I began instructing them on their “roles”, as if I was a Director on the set of “Gunsmoke”. Yep, including their dialog. Today, that approach to “fun” would mortify Polite Me.
There are photos of me in Halloween costumes which brought out my inner actress. Dressed as an angel for a school classroom play, I actually VOLUNTEERED to step forward and sing “Away in a Manager”. As a solo.
And then one day, a switch flipped.
I went from ready to take on the world to painfully shy. Blushing seemed to be my new talent. Hiding in plain sight was my goal. Finding a corner to observe the world was how my curiosity was fed. Rather than raise my hand to answer the question, I silently prayed to avoid the spotlight. Even if I knew the correct answer, I didn’t want all eyes on me.
For years I wondered what changed. What happened? There was no personal tragedy. No bullying. No one being condescending. The change silently occurred before puberty struck, so it wasn’t hormones and growing pains. I had, by choice, backed away. But why? I continued to wonder. I finally figured it out.
The year I was ten has been described as “The Year That Shattered America”. And all of it was documented on television. Back then, if your t.v. program suddenly became a static screen with the logo, “Special Bulletin” and a man toned gravely, ”We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin…”, something major had happened. Something terrible.
Today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination. When I learned of it, I was at a birthday sleepover. All the other girls ran off to play a game, but I sat with the hostess’ Dad, watching the sad news unfold. I felt the oddest emptiness in the pit of my stomach. Dr. King and I shared a birthday and even as a kid I knew parts of the, “I Have A Dream” speech. But I was witnessing a nightmare. The nightly news would fill with the frightening, yet understandable, reply of rage in the streets.
Months later, I’d go running into the kitchen to tell Mom that someone had shot Bobby Kennedy. At first she didn’t believe me. She thought I was confused and had seen something about JFK. I persisted. She relented and followed me. Then she cried.
T.V. didn’t seem to be my friend any more. The Vietnam War was a nightly event. When Uncle Walter Cronkite, the most objective newsman on the air, suddenly called U.S. involvement, “mired in stalemate”, I realized for the first time America didn’t win everything we attempted. Then the Democratic National Convention erupted. I can still see Dan Rather literally caught in the middle while trying to report.
Today I checked to see what else had happened in 1968. While I was aware of all of these events, I had no idea they’d all occurred the same year.
North Korea seized the USS Pueblo: 1 killed, 82 imprisoned. At year’s end they released the crew, but kept the ship. (It’s on exhibit in the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang).
S.C. State University: (aka the “Orangeburg Massacre). Police opened fire on students protesting segregation in the town’s only Bowling Alley: 3 died, 27 wounded. The 9 officers were acquitted. The protest organizer was convicted of inciting a riot and served 7 months in prison. He was pardoned…25 years later. As kid living in S.C., this was unnerving.
Pres. Johnson, having failed in Vietnam and struggling with Civil Rights, decided not to run. Protests are held on college campuses nationwide while Draft Cards are burned.
Dr. King is assassinated.
Bobby Kennedy is assassinated.
The Democratic National Convention: Members of the National Guard club/use teargas on antiwar demonstrators, as well as innocent bystanders and reporters. The violence is caught on live t.v..
Controversy ensues when Olympic athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise gloved fists during the medal ceremony to protest violence and poverty among African Americans. They are stripped of their medals.
Fifty years later, I find it ironic that 2018 could also be described as, ”The Year That Shattered America”. Politics are more important than people. The Village that it used to take to raise a child is torn into special interest subgroups…the One Voice of a nation gathering strength is now a cacophony of special interests not aimed to aid the huddle masses yearning to break free. Common Sense….R.I.P.
I kinda miss “Special Bulletin” reports. Those interruptions marked rare moments in history where America might not have shone in the moment, but once in-the-heat-of-the-moment emotion abated, we realize we’re stronger together than separate. Now if only we'll put that into motion again, rather than view the world as Violence vs. Silence.
Come on Common Sense…I don’t think I’m quite done with you yet.