Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy, 1932-2009

For a native Bostonian and lifelong Massachusetts person like me, Ted Kennedy's death gives a special sadness. I won't even try to describe it other than to say that it comes partly from a connection I have with other, older people from this part of the country. My mother in particular will be affected, which means I will be too.

Above all, I appreciate that Ted was always optimistic and tough. Yes, he made some awful mistakes in life, and we should neither ignore nor wave them away. But certainly Ted helped many people in Massachusetts and the U.S. through his role as senator.

Perhaps a most worthwhile perspective on Ted comes from his own words, from the eulogy for his brother Robert:
My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.
No, these words aren't quite right for Ted because he will never "be remembered simply as a good and decent man." To take a line from Walt Whitman, Ted was large and contained multitudes.

Whitman long ago also sang, "There is that in me - I do not know what it is - but I know it is in me."

Yes, this seems more apt. If Ted was an icon for supporters and a target for detractors, maybe it was because he seemed more like us than his brothers did, and we were more like him. His burdens, mistakes, triumphs and failures were the kinds of things we saw as being in us too.

I don't know that I would have wanted to live Ted Kennedy's life. I cannot I say I could have done any better. But he lived an extraordinary life of great consequence. Those consequences now belong to us, the living, to shape and to work in our time.

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