It doesn’t feel like that long ago, but it is the equivalent of more than the sum of two of the lives lost that day. Believers in peace faced Saturday soldiers over a shooting war a world away from Ohio. Four young people died on campus in Kent that day. So much innocence lost with them. So much anger and sadness and fear took its place. I can still hear it.
A week later, this high school senior and his parents visited the campus he would attend come September. As we arrived in the lecture hall, the head of the campus’ student government was doing what student government heads did those days. He shook his fist and warned that if it could happen in Ohio, it most certainly could happen in western New York.
This of course, put Mom on edge. She never said she worried about me getting shot. I think she was more concerned about me diving into the deep end of adulthood after 17 years in the wading pool. I of course, a worldly-dopey teenager suddenly gushing testosterone for the first time in my life, couldn’t wait to cannonball.
My first night on campus, all of us tucked away in our dorms, we were rousted by the fire alarms and hustled away from our buildings. As we guys meandered around campus on that warm September night, we scoped the girls in their nighties and all considered this extremely cool. No fire. Just cops and fire engines and campus security and girls in their nighties. No harm, no foul.
It was on our way back, after the all-clear, that I heard a cop talking to a fireman, saying that word had it the Black Panther Party in Rochester had called in a bomb threat on campus. That was my adulthood belly flop. It stung a little.
A week later, a day after my eighteenth birthday, I was required to wander (not yet march) into the local office of Selective Service and register for the Draft. A short while later, when the draft lottery numbers were pulled for this batch of eighteen-year-olds, I received number 46 out of 365. That was my belly flop from the high board. Peace with honor became a yearning just for peace.
I only bring this all up because of the date. This anniversary seems particularly poignant for me, maybe because I don’t know if I’ll even be around for Number 50. And because memory has become such a brittle, such a fragile, such a valuable thing to me. And maybe it’s because I’m sensing so many echoes of 1968-69-70 in widescreen high-def, surround-sound these days. Isn’t it terrible and wonderful what recollections of a boyhood crossroads can stir up?
I know now that if it could happen in my United States in 1970, like it happened in a nice midwestern college town like Kent, Ohio, it could just as easily happen for some reason important to different groups of people in 2015 somewhere near all of us.
Sorry, just an old man recalling and thinking out loud. Carry on.