Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Bit about Ted

Wednesday evening
Intermission from rowing. 

At dinner tonight, I found out that Ted Kennedy died yesterday. I listen to stupid talk shows on the way to and from work and they were so truly stupid there was no mention of this. I don't watch the news when I get up in the AM either.

So I was very sad and shocked to hear this news, even though, given what he was going through physically, I'm sure his death was a blessing in many ways.

Much of the impressionable part of my thinking life was bordered by Kennedy's. 

On the way home from school, Winchester-Thurston in Pgh, one day, in a cab shared with other classmates, we saw people crying on the sidewalks.

The cab driver paused and rolled down the window to ask what had happened. "The President has been shot." He turned on the radio and we heard that he had died.

When we arrived at my home, my father was waiting at the door, clerical collar still on. As I walked toward him, he opened his arms and I ran to him to begin the tortuous hours of crying and TV watching that I would imagine everyone in the US endured for the next few days.

Within a few years, I watched his brother Robert assassinated. 

What horrors the television invited into our homes. What awful scenes are imprinted in our memories. Jackie's pink pillbox hat and bloodstained outfit, JFK's slump, Jackie trying to crawl over the trunk of the car, Jack Ruby lying in wait, the screaming. 

I can't help but think that for my generation, the amazing qualities of our parents, their endurance and fortitude, the safeness of believing that right would triumph, was replaced by fear and the knowledge that people who didn't like something could and would just destroy the person who represented what they didn't like.

The only guy left was Ted. Ted to carry the torch. Was ever a younger brother tasked with more? Two fallen heroes before him. He, like my friends and I, seemed bent on making sure that if the bomb did happen to fall and we weren't anywhere near a nuclear shelter, we would have lived life to the fullest.

He was the privileged political heir apparent. Rumors abounded that he lacked integrity, cheated on exams, wasn't the man either of his brothers had been. So, the tragic death of Mary Jo Kopechne was a nail in his reputational coffin. He showed himself for the superficial, gutless creature it was all too easy to despise.

Most of us, including me, joined in the universal vilification. None of us perceived this as calumniation. Come on, she was trapped in the car and he left her there.

I couldn't understand why he chose to stay in public office. I couldn't believe that he thought that memories would ever be so short that a time would come when he could seriously entertain the thought of running for president.

But he kept on going. Year after year, without hope of the presidency, he continued to serve the people of his state and his country. He was the brunt of jokes. He often looked seriously damaged from excesses of alcohol, stress, whatever pains assaulted his family with horrifying regularity.

And as he continued, my perception of him began to reshape. I'm sixty years old and belong to a generation that laughs when our children think anything they do could shock us. Good GRIEF, do people realize what went on in the late sixties? Trust me, the aberrant behavior of subsequent generations is a blip on the crazed-o-meter for people like myself.

Some of what I have learned in my lifetime is:
- When you are a young person you make mistakes. The enormity of your mistakes differs based on many factors, but bottom line is that you are stupid in the main and rely on the kindness of strangers, good luck, and the overwhelming mercy of God to survive
- You learn from your mistakes. Sometimes the bigger the mistakes you make, the more you learn. You can actually BE A BETTER PERSON IF YOU MAKE THE BIGGEST MISTAKES, because you are so overwhelmed by your guilt and regret and try your very hardest not to make the same mistakes again
- Everyone is worthy of forgiveness. Yep, everybody and let's not visit death row to go through all the sordid cases one by one. But, when people are sincerely sorry, who are we to judge them? Who are we, who haven't been in their shoes, to condemn them?

I could put the world to sleep with more words, but this is what I want to say.

I forgave Ted Kennedy for his terrible, awful, tragic mistake. I believe that his life was shaped, narrowed, and enlarged by his remorse. I appreciate that he didn't have to stay in public service but he did. He cared for the people he represented. He lived a responsible life in that sense, putting himself out there knowing that 99% of everyone he met for the first time was thinking about that awful event that left a precious life destroyed.

I cry for Ted Kennedy as I would cry for anyone who had (in no particular order) tremendous opportunity, pressure to succeed, doors opened (albeit selective ones), the promise of greatness, the need to please indomitable parents and friends, the urge to give in to the seductive idiocy of hormones and youth, the competition of overachieving siblings, the horror of a mistake that turned into murder, and

Endured. Staying in view to use what he had to help others.

Am I naive to say this? Perhaps. But I am also old enough to know that expiation is found through our actions over time, not through some quick blessing in a confessional.

Ted Kennedy paid for his sins on earth. I hope he is safely nestled in the Lord's arms tonight and that all the good he has done is what he will be chiefly remembered for. 

And that is what I would like for myself and for all those I love.


Tom S said...

So insightful and honest. I doubt I'll hear anything close to this honest in the press, or anything so closely aligned with my thoughts (despite not having the same years of experience). I have no doubt that he's now with God.

Debbie Rhodes said...

Julia, what a true blessing you are! Thanks for that insightful dissertation about a man I have grown up mostly despising as well. After reading several articles online after his passing yesterday, I have also begun to modify my opinion of this civil servant. Thanks for sharing!