John F. Kennedy is the one who captures the ink and the imagination. He was elegant and witty. He was a war hero. He handled considerable physical pain, day in and day out, with stoicism. He saved the world from nuclear holocaust. And -- I'm paraphrasing Chris Matthews here -- he died in an open car on a sunny day, waving at adoring crowds with a beautiful woman at his side.
But then there's Bobby. There's little to his story that lends itself to fairy tale. The runt of the litter enlisted in WWII and was disappointed that he was unable to rise above the rank of seaman apprentice. He was sarcastic and rough edged. He didn't charm, he steam rolled. Whether you were a ward committeeman or a mob boss, if you got in his way, he flattened you.
But he changed. He evolved. The man he was for the first 36 years of his life wasn't the one laid to rest at just 42. Beginning in the White House, as his brother's Attorney General, and beyond, he developed empathy and a passion for the plight of the underdog. Then there was his priggish side. Whereas President Kennedy famously said, "Life isn't fair," Brother Bobby was offended by the injustice in the American South of the 1960s. Then, when his brother was murdered, Bobby let his grief enhance him, not cripple him. It was his personal pain that sensitized him to the suffering of others, and emboldened him to take on a sitting President regarding the Vietnam War.
That capacity to change fascinates me and inspires me to try to be better.
50 years ago, Bobby lost consciousness on a hotel kitchen floor, his bloody head cradled by a busboy. Juan Romero was a 17-year-old immigrant who pressed his rosary beads into Bobby's hand and recited prayers with him on the filthy linoleum. It's so fitting, it breaks my heart.
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