Saturday, August 29, 2009

Atonement and dignity

Watching the televised funeral mass for Sen. Edward M. “Teddy” Kennedy (Feb. 22, 1932 – Aug. 25, 2009) it struck me once again what a good looking family the Kennedy clan has always been and remains.

Since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, with each Kennedy death that followed, we’ve seen the family marshal its strength and gather its dignity for an ordeal millions of us watched on television.

Each time we’ve been drawn deeply into the moment’s intensity to share the grief of the Kennedys. We’ve witnessed the endurance of their spirit to carry on. Each time the youngest of his generation was there to lead the way for his family -- especially, all the nieces and nephews.

“The baby of the family who became the patriarch,” said President Barack Obama.

Forty years ago (July 18, 1969), Teddy Kennedy’s car plunged off the Dike Bridge on Chappaquiddick Island into a tidal pond. Although he swam away, his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned.

What happened in the crucial seconds and minutes after the car went into the drink was never made entirely clear. It is an understatement to say the official explanation of what exactly the last of the Kennedy brothers did in the minutes and hours after he saved himself wasn’t entirely satisfying.

Following the veritable canonization of his two slain brothers, by comparison, Teddy seemed more than ever to be the disappointment of his generation. He had long been seen as the most affable but least intelligent of the Kennedy brothers. After Chappaquiddick millions of Americans saw him as a cad, perhaps even criminally so. To this day, some of them have never forgiven him for being the least gallant Kennedy.

“My father believed in redemption,” said Teddy’s namesake, Edward M. Kennedy, Jr.

Since Chappaquiddick, Sen. Kennedy has lived four decades in the public eye, never knowing when another assassin’s bullet might put out his light. Through tireless public service and by taking care of his family, properly, the man has done what he could to atone for his transgressions.

In the Senate he set an example of how to get things accomplished that is unparalleled in modern times. Gridlock was his enemy, much more than any particular Senator. Consistently, his goal has been to improve the lot of ordinary people who weren’t born with the blessing of power or influence.

In recent years Kennedy worked across the aisle like nobody else in DeeCee. While rightwing commentators have loved to demonize him, many of his conservative colleagues in the Senate spoke well of his ability to compromise and build a consensus.

Still, there are people who will never forgive Teddy Kennedy for being a rich kid who made a mistake and wasn’t punished in the way they saw fit. Too many of his detractors seem to believe they are all the more a good Christian for hating a man who was happy to be called a “liberal.”

So, even today, of all days, it’s been easy to hear/read crude comments about Teddy Kennedy.

Well, this nonbeliever feels sorry for sanctimonious knuckleheads of any political persuasion or religious sect who find it easier to hate than forgive.

Watching that traditional yet passionate celebration of his life, it was abundantly obvious to anyone who truly admires courage, generosity and a strong sense of duty in a person, exactly why Uncle Teddy was such a beloved man.

Rest in peace, Teddy…

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can attest to his sensitivity to being an assassin's target. At the 1987 tennis tour stop in DC, I found myself accidentally located in the players' lounge following Boris Becker's Fri. evening match. Needless to say, given Becker's status at that time, that off-limits area was crawling with DC & tennis world notables. Fairly late in the evening I happened to notice that a small group leaving the lounge included the Senator, and from about 10 feet away, as he was walking out, I called out, "Hey, Senator". I have to say I was a bit surprised that he turned around to respond, but what caught me more off guard was the look of abject fear on his face. Once he saw that I had a bottle of beer in one hand, with the other extended to shake his, he quickly covered the distance between us, grabbed my extended hand, and with a jouous smile now covering his face, said it was good to see me as I was thanking him for all his family had done for our country. A fine memory in the end, but I've often wondered how many times he was put through the same kind of anxious moments I'd thoughtlessly caused him that night. I hope that over time that became less of a concern for him - what a burden that must have been.

Ernie Brooks