Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Kent State, 40 years and One Week Later

On May 4, 1970
, members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on unarmed students during a protest at Kent State University against the United States' invasion of Cambodia.  They fired 67 shots, wounding 9 and killing 4.  Eight Guardsman were subsequently indicted, but the case was dismissed.

On May 4, 1970, my mother was pregnant.  The baby was due on May 15.  My parents lived in Concord, Massachusetts, but my mother was slated to deliver the baby at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, about 20 miles away.  My father also worked in Cambridge.  Their last baby had come rather quickly, so my mother spent the last days of her pregnancy at my father's office so that, if she went into labor during the day, she would be close to the hospital and my father would be with her.

On May 4, 1970, my father walked into his office and found my mother sitting by the radio, distraught.  News of the Kent State shootings had been reported.  She told my father, "We can't bring a baby into this world."  My father, in his ever-helpful way, responded, "It's a little late for that."

On May 11, 1970, their baby was born.  For the record, although the 11th was a Monday, the extra precaution of my mother going to work with my dad turned out to be unnecessary.  She went into labor on Sunday, Mother's Day, and the baby was born less than half an hour after midnight on Monday morning.

As in many families, the story of the day each child was born was told and retold as I was growing up.  Different people told different versions with different emphasis.  The story about my mother listening to the radio in my father's office was often part of the tale.*  Growing up, "Kent State" was not a university in my mind, but an event, and because it was part of a family birth story it was, somehow, our event.

Last week marked the 40th anniversary of the Kent State shootings.  Anniversaries of traumatic events are hard for the survivors and family members -- most people recognize that.  In its own way, this anniversary was hard for the collective consciousness of the country, as we wonder what, if anything, we learned 40 years ago.

I found myself oddly affected by the news stories about the anniversary last week.  On the one hand, the shootings did not affect me or my family directly.  At the same time, Kent State is part of my family, part of our lore.  So today, May 11, 2010, I honor the students who died at Kent State, 40 years and one week after my mom heard of their deaths on the radio and wondered about having this baby, and 40 years after she did, in fact, bring me into the world.

* As with many family stories, this one has been filtered through the years.  I undoubtedly have parts of it wrong, and no doubt someone in my family will let me know about it.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at www.SchoolCrisisConsultant.com
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