By Ed Smith
There are a few moments in life that draw together the strands of your life. We often don't even see the moment for what it is until later, years later in my case.
A moment for me came on the morning of June 5, 1968, 45 years ago today. I was a 14-year-old Irish Catholic kid growing up in Connecticut. The Kennedys loomed large in my nascent political consciousness. John Kennedy had been a hero and now Robert Kennedy was a rising political force rushing toward the White House. It was, after all, long before the bloom faded a bit from that particular Irish rose.
In 1968 there was no cable TV, no Internet, essentially no way to get your news except the three TV networks, radio and the morning newspaper.
I was a paperboy. That morning I went out to open my bundle of Hartford Courants at 5:30, ready to walk the neighborhood to drop off the previous day's news. As I peeled away the brown paper wrapping I saw the headline that he'd been assassinated. Honestly, I can't remember the exact wording. Kennedy had been shot just after midnight and in those days newspapers actually chased their last edition to get in momentous breaking news.
I was stunned. I cried. Today I would have known the news before my first cup of coffee from the news feed on my phone, from Twitter, in a dozen different ways. In retrospect, I think the shock was greater, the news more profound delivered in heavy black ink on newsprint. It may just be age or maybe nostalgia, but equally shocking news now delivered moments after a tragedy occurs seems bled of the emotional punch.
But what sticks with me all these years later was the hour that followed. I walked my paper route and dropped The Courant on doorstep after doorstep. Since I knew almost no one had yet gotten the news at that time of the morning I realized every person, my neighbors, would pick up the paper from the stoop, unfold it and feel that punch in the gut. It was like walking in a funeral procession.
That was an awful year. RFK's murder came only a few months after Martin Luther King's death. That August in Chicago the Democratic National Convention became the place where the anguish over the Vietnam War and despair over the deaths of King and Kennedy spilled into a bloody confrontation in the public square.
It was an ugly and messy time, but it stoked a passion that drew a generation into public service. It was a crucible that gave people across the political spectrum the nerve to step on the political stage, something we should never take for granted.
Ed Smith is the director of digital communications at NCSL.