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Wisdom through the awful grace of god

Letter to the Editor

As my siblings and I gathered for our father’s Friday funeral, I reflected on how people sometimes speak of “death by natural causes,” such as death related to old age. But death always seems, to me, so unnatural, as though we mortals were meant to live forever.

That visceral sense, that mortality is not the original design, is linked, I’m sure, to my upbringing as a Christian at a time when Christianity was not under such direct assault in America, a time when charismatic candidates and eloquent leaders of lost causes dared base their clarion calls in overt faith in God.

My boomer generation remembers 1968 as a shattered year — “a crack in time” — as ABC News anchor Frank Reynolds retrospectively called it. That year we witnessed through media what seemed like the modern martyrdom of two public icons.

In April 1968, civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his moving Mountaintop Speech in Memphis using stirring Old Testament Promised Land metaphors.

The following evening, when Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s plane landed in Indianapolis, the presidential candidate was informed that King had been assassinated, a fact of which RFK’s audience, many of them passionate supporters of King, were unaware.

Stepping to the microphone, recalling his own brother’s assassination, Bobby brought compassionate calm to a potentially volatile scene:

“For those of you who are black and are tempted to . . . be filled with hatred and mistrust at the injustice of such an act . . . I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling.”

He quoted Aeschylus:

“Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.”

Other cities in America burned in riots that night, but peace ruled in Indianapolis. In June, Bobby was assassinated.

Grief today or tomorrow may seem meaningless at the time. However, the “awful grace of God” can transform grief into creative, healing unity.

Gary Altman



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