Monday, August 31, 2009

The Last Brother

Much has been written about Ted Kennedy since he died a week ago. There is little I can add -- except some personal impressions. Three weeks ago, my wife, our son and I stood at the Kennedy grave site in Arlington, Virginia. My mind went back to November 22, 1963, when I was as old as the son who stood beside me. I was surprised at how vivid the memory was, and how I ached at the unfairness of things.

For me -- and, I suspect, for many of my generation -- the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King marked the end of innocence. We had chased each other between our houses, firing cap pistols in the pursuit of justice. Justice -- and its triumph -- were certain. The death of those three men forced us to confront the power of the gun and the darkness of the human heart. The world was never the same again.

From then on, I was never surprised by disappointment. When Teddy drove off that bridge in Chappaquiddick, I was more disappointed than angry. When the story hit the media of the night Kennedy and his nephew spent before the latter was tried for rape, I was again more disappointed than angry. I concluded that the burdens Kennedy had borne had finally broken him.

However, he did not disappear. In the Senate he continued to thunder about unfairness -- not his own -- but the unfairness endured by those less privileged than himself. And, like Irish politicians of old, he continued to look after the folks. I'm convinced that duty is in the DNA of the Irish. There have been too many widows and orphans to allow it to atrophy.

I was particularly struck by what Kennedy wrote to one of the widows of September 11th -- a passage President Obama used in his eulogy: "As you know so well, the passage of time never really heals the tragic memory of such a great loss, but we carry on, because we have to, because our loved ones would want us to, and because there is still light to guide us in the world from the love they gave us."

I probably will not return to Washington in the years that are left to me. But if I did, I would visit Arlington again. I'm sure I would still feel the ache of injustice. But I believe that I would also feel something else. I would leave with the faith that -- as Martin Luther King said -- "unearned suffering is redemptive;" and -- as Edward Kennedy said -- "the dream still lives."


altonwoods said...

Very thoughtful writing. I suspect that you're close to my age of 48.I wonder if like me you feel as though we've witnessed to a large extent the collapse of our country within our lifetime's. enjoyed your post! Jeff

Owen Gray said...

I'm a little older than you --62-- but, like you, I fear that we have lost the ability to talk civilly and rationally.

I live in Canada, where we have had three elections in four years. It looks like we are going to have another. If the last three elections are a guide, it will be unpleasant.

We Canadians are fascinated by the United States; and most of us feel great admiration for Mr.Obama. He's going through a rough patch just now.

I hope that--like Senator Kennedy--his patient perseverance will pay off.

ChrisJ said...

I well remember that day in November '63. You have captured my feelings - and I suspect the feelings of many of our generation.