Fifty years ago today Bobby Kennedy was buried at Arlington National Cemetery under the glare of floodlights, his coffin carried by his sons and only surviving brother. As we had less than five years before, the nation watched a family’s very private moment on television.
I have a vivid memory of watching that moment on TV because it was what greeted me that night as I came home, traveling from Newport, Rhode Island, bringing a merciful end to my ignominious tenure as a New England boarding school student. June 8, 1968 was a long day.
I’ve written about that year at St. George’s here and elsewhere so I won’t go into all the details. But today, fifty years later, I’m going back, just for a weekend, and in the company of a friend — one of the few — from that year. We’re going to visit the old haunts and perhaps see and dispatch some ghosts.
The last line of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald is one of the greatest bits of insight into the human mind: “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” When I first read that, some fifty years ago, I wasn’t sure what he meant, but as I’ve gotten older I realize, both as a writer and as a human being, that not only is there more of the past, it becomes a beacon, like the light on the end of the dock across the bay, as both a warning and a welcome.