There’s a certain connection we have with ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. We appreciate that one doesn’t have to be a foreign diplomat or a C.I.A. agent to be intertwined in geopolitical affairs. Imagine the impact Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination had on Juan Romero. Senator Kennedy was a Presidential candidate when he was shot passing through the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. It was June 5, 1968, and Juan was just 17, a busboy at the Ambassador. Juan cradled the head of the mortally wounded Senator, who had collapsed onto the hallway floor. A famous photo captured this ordinary kid experiencing a most extraordinary event.
Evident in the photo was the shock and pain Juan felt at that exact moment. Sadly, he would be tormented by the experience throughout his life. Years later, he shared in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that he felt guilty knowing Kennedy had paused to shake his hand moments before the assassination. Would the Senator’s assassination been prevented had he not stopped to shake hands with Juan? Would he have gone on to be President during a tumultuous time in U. S. history? Remember, this was a high school kid who bussed tables after school, not someone assigned to protect the Senator.
Secret Service agents are trained to prevent an assassination, yet should such a tragedy occur, agents are backed by mental health professionals to help them cope with the emotional strain. Juan wasn’t trained in this capacity nor afforded the resources to manage the aftershock. We empathize with the Juans of the world. We relate to them. They are you and I.
In 1984, I visited the Anne Frank House. I wondered how this young Jewish girl, along with five others, stayed hidden from the Nazis for over two years in about 500 square feet of space. Anne, too, was an ordinary kid most remembered for the diary she kept. She must have found solace in writing her journal entries, considering lost opportunities to socialize with friends and classmates. As I walked through Anne’s home, I felt a certain connection with her. I wanted to tell Anne that the Nazis lost WWII and that citizens of all races and nationalities now walked freely on the streets below her home.
America has experienced considerable change since my visit to the Anne Frank House. One of our crowning achievements, the middle class, is threatened on multiple fronts. America has also become more ethnically diverse. Some argue vehemently that our increasing diversity, a consequence of immigration, is the primary reason for our dwindling middle class. Others welcome the infusion of diversity, noting that immigrants perform less desirable yet essential work in our society. Those on each side of the debate seem averse to compromise, fueling the polarization of America.
This divisive landscape is a compelling subject for writers. In the fictional realm, writers have free reign to explore the thoughts and convictions of characters struggling to contend with the world around them. Lou Denslow is the protagonist in Agitators, my first novel. While Lou is a Secret Service agent, the character I enjoyed developing the most was Tony Curren, Lou’s lifelong friend who steered clear of marriage and career. Tony has hardened with age. As he sees it, his town has changed and not for the better. In the opening dialogue between Lou and Tony, whom to blame for this unwelcome change reveals a racial bias Tony has that his friend does not share. How their friendship contends with this moral dilemma is something many of us can relate to in 2018 America.