Still Hopeful After All These Years
by M.L. Faunce
Editor's note: This is the final of four reflections looking back 30 years to 1968
When the U.S. Postal Service recently asked customers what themes they most identified with the 1960s, the top three choices were the Beatles, Woodstock and Star Trek. (Those subjects will be featured on new 33-cent stamps to be issued next year.)
But when I asked several of my 50-something friends what themes they most identified with the year 1968, the decade's most violent year, they sounded more grass roots than counter culture, to speak in terms coined in '68.
They talked about the fight for civil rights, classic space flights, and a war that couldn't be won - at home or abroad. In a time of liberation, they felt polarized from older generations, and at times, from each other. Now 30 years distant from 1968, I was struck that the themes of revolution, rock and roll and riots still ricocheted in memory. To this day, many still feel the loss of two leaders who died that year by assassins' bullets.
Author Norman Mailer described the turbulent decade that included 1968 as a time that Americans had to "do the extraordinary or perish." Extraordinarily, that generation still believes in politics - and in a government capable of both good and bad acts.
I didn't know Shirley Wang back in 1968 when she was a new immigrant from China. She didn't march for peace as I had, or protest a war. Meeting by chance in 1998, we struck a cord reminiscing together over a time that loomed large in our separate lives.
"My oldest son was born on Nov. 8, 1968. In my selfish heart, I was glad I wasn't mother of a son to grow up in the 1960s. Then, I was a young woman come to a new country to study and make a living. Whenever I saw the hippie type of students, I wondered, don't they have something better to do?
"At lunch time all I heard was the talk of young office women dating the high school sweethearts they planned to marry before the boys were sent to Vietnam. Twenty years later I visited the Vietnam Memorial and read the letters on the 'wall' signed your loving son or daughter. I cried and cried."
Charles Barnes, a slightly younger friend, also remains under the spell of those days.
"June 6, 1968, the day that Robert Kennedy died, was the day I graduated from high school. It was one of the worst days of my life. I had worked for Robert Kennedy as a volunteer in the Indiana primary in April, and met him briefly.
"As I shook his hand that day I noticed, and have always remembered, how tired he looked and sad, too. Only days before he had announced the death of Martin Luther King. The message that spring was seared deep into my soul and has stayed with me always: 'this is America, we can do better.' To this day, I am still inspired by him and the hope that each of us can make a difference, a tiny ripple."
When I returned home this week from a trip to California, I had a message from Mary McAllister, an old school chum, urging me to join the march on Washington this Thursday to protest impeachment proceedings against the president
How odd, I thought, that the generation that seemed intent on overthrowing government upholds it still. That's a hard legacy to affix on a postage stamp.
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Volume VI Number 50
December 17-23, 1998
New Bay Times
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