Words of Consolation, Hope, and Wisdom
RFK, Jr.’s touching tribute to Maui after the Lahaina Fire
On Sunday, August 27, I attended an assembly of grassroots charitable organizations that are working together to provide relief for the displaced survivors of the Lahaina Fire. The event was hosted by the Hungry Heroes Hawaii charity at the Ahimsa Farm Sanctuary in Haiku, Maui. At about 5:30 p.m. local time, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. addressed the gathering by Zoom.
Though I was aware of Kennedy’s public speaking gift, I was still surprised by how much thought and feeling he invested in his address. For about six minutes, he spoke about the mystery of death and the inconsolable grief we experience when we lose someone we love. The highlight of his speech was the wise counsel his mother had offered him when his brother Michael died.
My mother was accustomed to grief, and she had figured out how to process it in a way that was really dignified and admirable. I asked her if the hole that people leave in us when they die ever gets any smaller. My mother told me that it never gets any smaller, but our job is to grow ourselves bigger around that hole, and the way we do that is by incorporating the best virtues of those people that we lost into our own character, and in making that effort, we build ourselves—we build our character, and we give those people a kind of immortality, because we’re thinking every day about how to improve ourselves by incorporating the lessons of their lives and the virtues they displayed when they were with us, and at the same time, we grow ourselves into bigger people. And when we do that, that hole gets proportionately smaller.
This very admirable path that you have committed yourselves to shows us that you have used this incident not to allow yourselves to be shattered and destroyed or overwhelmed, but rather to bring yourselves together—not wait for the government to rescue you, but to bring yourselves together and to rebuild a sense of community.
God talks to as through each other, through organized religion, through the great books of those religions, through wise people and prophets, through art, music, literature, and poetry—and through nature and the creation. But He—or She or It—probably talks to us most precisely through each other, and we understand God through our relationships. His or Her power flows through us from other people—even people we don’t like—but especially from people who we love.
Listening to these words, I found myself unexpectedly moved. What struck me the most was the deeply personal quality of Kennedy’s searching exploration of death, grief, and redemption.
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Maui is a small county in a small state that carries little weight in a presidential election, and Kennedy’s speech wasn’t televised. There was no political gain he could reap from his talk. Truly, he was speaking from the heart to these people, and it brought tears to my eyes.
Our emotional responses to situations are conditioned by what we have grown accustomed to, which also conditions our expectations. In recent years I’ve grown accustomed to hearing politicians speak boring platitudes at best. Kennedy’s touching and elegant speech starkly contrasted with President Joe Biden’s official state visit to Maui on August 21. Escorting the President and First Lady was a vast entourage of handlers and Secret Service agents and their fleet of large, black SUVs, flown in by military cargo transport.
At the solemnest of occasions, with hundreds of people (including many children) still missing and almost certainly dead, the president doddered around, appeared to fall asleep during a ceremony, and then told an incoherent story about his own close shave with a fire that almost consumed his ’67 Corvette. In characteristic damage control mode for its puppet president, the mainstream media rushed to say that President Biden didn’t actually fall asleep.
I often speak with middle-aged and older people who express the sentiment that we seem to have lost the America we once knew. Some combination of forces and events seems to have rendered our Republic unrecognizable from the nation we knew and loved in our younger days. A constitutional Republic that had once seemed unshakable now appears destabilized, and at times we fear that its very existence may be threatened, just as a wind-stoked fire may threaten a fine old town built of wooden buildings.
President Biden’s official state visit to Maui amplified my concern that we are currently bereft of competent leadership at every level of government. Five years ago, fires sparked by Hurricane Lane almost incinerated Lahaina. The incident revealed that the town faced a clear and present danger of catastrophic fire during the dry and windy season. Nevertheless, it appears that neither local nor state government agencies did anything to mitigate the risk or to prepare for possible disaster. The modern state has amassed immense power over the citizenry, and with this power comes great responsibility. It seems to me that, in the case of the Lahaina Fire, the state completely failed.
Like all human things, institutions are susceptible to corrupting influences and bad leadership. So it is with the current Democratic Party. Nevertheless, instead of abandoning this old, large, and well-established institution (founded in 1828) I believe we should elect new leadership for it—leadership that will discipline the institution and lead it back to reason.
Kennedy has the intellect, character, and energy to achieve this. He is working hard to incorporate into his own public life the political virtues that his deceased uncle and father displayed in theirs. If the Democratic Party electorate will recognize this, he will give the old institution a renewed and greater life, and the hole that now lies at the heart of it will get proportionately smaller.
Click here to watch a recording of Kennedy’s Maui address.