Sunday, May 4, 2008

May 4th

Later today, as I do every year, I will drive over to campus with four bunches of freshly-cut flowers. I will lay them at four temporary memorials marked out in the parking lot where I used to park when I worked at the university. It is the only way I know to leave a concrete symbol that I remember what happened there.

Thirty-eight years ago I was a junior in high school. The first knowledge we had of something gone horribly wrong at Kent State was a frantic phone call from my aunt. Shots had been fired, she told my mother, "I'm going up there to get David." Davey, my much-loved cousin, was a KSU student living on campus that spring. My aunt and my grandmother got in their car and drove from Canton to Kent to "rescue" my cousin. I learned later from countless news stories about the hell they drove into. We all learned about it. It was the only topic of conversation in all my classes in the days that followed.

You know what happened that day - or you should. Government troops had arrived and set up camp on the university commons. Armed soldiers patrolled the campus perimeter. When students protested the military presence on the campus where they lived and attended classes, the troops opened fire on the unarmed students. Thirteen of them were shot, four fatally. Two of the dead students were a part of the protest; two of them had been walking to class when they were gunned down.

So many thoughts swirl through my mind as I remember that day. The one that I come back to time and again, though, is how it feels when spring finally comes to Kent, Ohio. The winters are long here. The days are cold and snowy, the skies are gray for months on end. When the temperature finally climbs above 70 degrees and the sun shines and all the flowering trees on campus bloom, it is the most joyous time of the entire school year. Everyone is outside, playing frisbee, laying in the sun, checking out the opposite sex, for sure. Doing anything, really, just to be outdoors on a glorious spring day. I know if I had been on campus that day, I would certainly have been on Blanket Hill to see what was going on, and, yes, probably to protest an armed government presence on my campus.

Allison and Jeff, Bill and Sandy were older than me when they died - I was still in high school, after all, and they were college students. The years have passed, however, and now my own children are older than they lived to be. I think of their sunny, bright, young faces in all the photos I have ever seen of them, and I know I won't ever forget them or how they died in that sunlit parking lot - killed by agents of their own government. I hope you will always remember them, too.

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Gotta get down to it
Soldiers are gunning us down
Should have been done long ago.
What if you knew her
And found her dead on the ground
How can you run when you know?

Tin soldiers and Nixon coming,
We're finally on our own.
This summer I hear the drumming,
Four dead in Ohio.

Ohio - Neil Young

1 comment:

Ben said...

It was very moving, going to campus with you this May 4. I watched as you left flowers from our back yard at the spot in the parking lot where Allison died. You moved on wordlessly, leaving more flowers where the lives of Jeff, Bill, and Sandy ended that beautiful Spring day almost 40 years ago.

It seemed incomprehensible, as it does every year, that students were shot to death right where we stood. Other people saw your silent gesture. "Was she there", they wondered? "Did she see it?" "Did she know them?"

The answer: No. But, in a sense, yes. She knew people just like them; she was just like them. She knew warm days like them, knew anger like them. She knows it might have been her. It might have been anyone, and next time it could be someone you love.

So we mark the day, we remember. If people remember, it won't happen again. Will it?