Today is September 2 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “can you move forward after losing a loved one?” This theme of forward progress after a personal loss appears several times in this Navigate the Chaos series for good reason. Inevitably, as we work on translating our dreams into reality, we are most likely going to lose someone we love.
Those who navigate the chaos understand that their pain of loss falls upon their heart. Austrian-German weightlifter Matthias Steiner is one such example, Steiner won a gold medal in during the 2008 Summer Olympics after losing his wife in a car crash almost exactly a year prior to completing.
In an interview Steiner noted that he told his wife that he would win the Olympics. With her gone and left with the motivation to do what he told her, he hit a huge personal record, clean and jerking 8 kilos more than his rival for the gold. In an intense display of emotion on the podium holding his gold medal, Steiner held up a picture of his wife.
Steiner’s strategy of navigating the chaos of his wife’s death illustrates that it is possible to move forward after losing a loved one. The ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus wrote “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.”
During times of loss those who navigate the chaos recall the wisdom of Aeschylus to hold on to the possibilities of the future amidst heavy sadness. A story from the night of April 4, 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, serves as a poignant example.
Explosive protests erupted around the United States following news of the assassination. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a presidential candidate at the time, was in Indianapolis campaigning and wanted to personally inform the residents of King’s assassination.
The local police warned Senator Kennedy that going out into the streets of the city could be dangerous due to the threat of violence and they would be unable to protect him. Undeterred, Kennedy gathered his thoughts on his way to the crowd gathered to hear him, stood up on the back of a flatbed truck, and gave one of the most inspirational political speeches in history. Here is an excerpt of his speech where Senator Kennedy referenced Aeschylus:
“I have bad news for you, for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world, and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and killed tonight. Martin Luther King dedicated his life to love and to justice for his fellow human beings, and he died because of that effort…
For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.
My favorite poet was
Aeschylus. He wrote: “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.”
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness, but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black.
We can do well in this country. We will have difficult times; we’ve had difficult times in the past; we will have difficult times in the future. It is not the end of violence; it is not the end of lawlessness; it is not the end of disorder.
But the vast majority of white people and the vast majority of black people in this country want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life, and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.”
Kennedy spoke for less than ten minutes, but by the end of his talk the crowd was cheering. Also, famously, Indianapolis was peaceful that night, while all around the country there were fires in the streets. Sadly, 63 days later Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated, and once again, the nation went to sleep with despair in its heart only to find a way to move forward with the grace of God.
On September 30, 1995, near the intersection of 17th and Broadway on the northside of Indianapolis, where Kennedy gave his impassioned speech, the city unveiled The Landmark for Peace - a memorial sculpture honoring the contributions of the slain leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.
The memorial, which features King and Kennedy reaching out to each other, was designed and executed by Indiana artist Greg Perry. The bronze portraits were created by Indianapolis sculptor Daniel Edwards. On April 4, 2018, the memorial was designated as the Kennedy-King National Commemorative Site.