I never understood Einstein’s Theory of Relativity until I got older. Yesterday brought its relevance back in focus for me.
In the morning, I had a phone conference with a group who work for Writer’s Relief, an author’s submission service that has guided my writing into many literary magazines. It was a strategic planning meeting. I was telling them I am working on “Radio Days”, a group of stories, each featuring a radio.
“So far, the stories are mostly memoir. I’m working on one now about Bobby Kennedy being shot,” I said. “I woke up to my alarm clock radio broadcasting the news.”
There was a loud silence from the other end. I’m not sure if they were awe struck by talking to someone who was actually old enough to remember the day Bobby Kennedy was shot or they felt sympathy for me, but I felt compelled to fill the silence.
“It was a terrible time in our history. Martin Luther King had only been killed two months before. I was teaching in an inner city school in Seattle that was probably 65% African American. There’d been riots then,” I continued.
I realized that to my quiet “audience”, it was U.S. History. To me, who had lived through it, it was part of the fabric of my life. I’ve never forgotten the shock of being awakened with the words, “Bobby Kennedy has been assassinated.”
I remember going to school that day in June. I was in mourning for another of our fallen leaders. Would it ever end? Bobby Kennedy had campaigned in Seattle that March. I was downtown with my mother and we went to see him as his cavalcade drove down the street.
“What a handsome young man,” Mother said. She was usually so serious and I thought it a frivolous comment. I was going to say, “We don’t elect our leaders by their looks,” but the moment passed.
Two months later Bobby Kennedy was dead just like Martin Luther King. I expected the kids to be upset, but I was wrong. These same people who’d wanted to burn the school down when MLK was shot, didn’t really care about Bobby Kennedy. It was June—time for school to be out. Time to have fun.
Forty-four years later, I went on the Facebook Group of many of my former students. It’s weird communicating with them, seeing how they thought of me. My memories have been cemented by my perceptions. I wondered how they perceived that day in June.
Thinking about it all day, I remembered it seemed a long time period between JFK’s assassination and Bobby Kennedy’s. It was only five years. As a teenager and a twenty-two-year-old, those five years had taken me from high school to college to marriage to a teaching career. I had evolved from a child to an adult. That time period was an eon for me.
Today, five years is gone in a flash. What was I even doing five years ago? A whole season of the year seems like a month to me now. Didn’t summer just start? How can the kids be going back to school? That can’t be a yellowed leaf on the ground, can it? But it is.
So I understand the Theory of Relativity now. Time is not a constant. The seconds may tick by constantly on the Master Clock at the Greenwich Observatory in England, but it gives us only numerical data. It is life that gives Time truth.