Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Uncle Teddy

*Editor's Note: I wanted to post about Hillary Clinton's phenomenal speech at the DNC tonight, but if I am coming out of my semi-break from blogging, the post that deserves to be written first is this one.

I was six when I was first introduced to Camelot. I remember the room in the house where my grandmother took me to show me a card that was sent to her by Jackie Kennedy's staff, with Jackie's own signature, following the assassination of President Kennedy. Millions of Americans must have received those notes as an acknowledgment of the thoughts, prayers, and cards they'd sent the Kennedy family in their darkest hours. I remember how sacred it felt as she took out the box that housed that handwritten note and a book, The Torch Is Passed..., a beautiful book that now lives at my home. For a woman who lived through the dark days following Dallas and the horrible events at the Ambassador five years later while her husband was working long hours away from home as they struggled to raise their four children, those days left an irrevocable impression.

The tragedy of Jack, the brilliance of Bobby, and the strength of Teddy--these were qualities I grew up admiring. I admire them still. I learned about perseverance from President Kennedy. His medical history has always been a reminder to me that we can push the limits of our mortal selves and become something greater than we ever imagined. I learned about healing from Bobby. His legacy of leading this country through his own brother's death, with that unbelievable speech at the 1964 convention, would secure his place in presidential politics when he would then run himself as the candidate who wanted most to lead this country to the healing of wounds of race, poverty, and despair. Despite Jack and Bobby being the political icons that they were and are, I learned about politics from Teddy. Anyone aspiring to lead a life of public service would do well by the Ted Kennedy model.

Yesterday when I first heard that Ted Kennedy could potentially be speaking to the Democratic Party, I ignored that announcement. My initial thought was, Caroline won't let him. It didn't occur to me that health concerns would keep him from that podium, this is Ted Kennedy after all, the man who took to the floor of the United States Senate to cast his vote on Medicare legislation days after learning he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. I thought Caroline would intervene, she has already lost a father, an uncle, a brother. I underestimated the historical sense and sensitivity of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. She looks to Barack Obama the way I look to her father.

Caroline was well-received by the crowd at the Democratic National Convention. Why wouldn't she be? She's the surviving member of a family so embedded in the American collective memory that we nearly consider them our own. She has stood before Democrats her entire life, she has stood proudly as a Democrat her entire life. Her speech was moving, in typical Caroline tone. Her smile contagious, her passion unmistakable, and every now and then her voice with the confidence and sound of her late brother.

Caroline was not only there to pay tribute to her uncle, Uncle Teddy who "never fails to find time for...a chance to walk one of his nieces down the aisle," Caroline was there to pay tribute to a senator who represents far more than a Massachusetts constituency. Ted Kennedy has done so much for so many people and what the American people wanted last night was not a just a moving video, they wanted to hear Ted Kennedy speak, if not for the last time.

Ted Kennedy has attended his fair share of conventions. Ted Kennedy has seen his fair share of change throughout his tenure in the Senate and in the public eye. If you had asked Ted Kennedy ten years ago if in this election cycle we would see two formidable candidates, one an African-American and one a woman, he would have had the trademark Kennedy smile on his face as he launched into a speech about the beauty of America and the wonder of the American dream. His Bostonian accent unmistakable, Ted Kennedy would have been the first to tell you that here anything is possible. He would have told you that this election is exactly what he has spent his entire life working toward.

Chris Matthews of MSNBC may have said it best when he commented that we as Americans may not know how to watch a Kennedy age. I can't help but ask myself which is more tragic, knowing you've lost a Kennedy, struck down in the prime of his life, or knowing you'll lose a Kennedy who has devoted his entire life to the betterment of this nation and who would, if possible, continue to give everything he had to secure a better future for ourselves and our children.

Speaking of a new hope, a season of hope, in his speech to the convention last night Ted Kennedy said: "I pledge to you that I will be there -- next January -- on the floor of the United States Senate, when we begin to write the next great chapter of American progress." I truly hope for the sake of American and the Democratic Party, Senator Kennedy is on the floor of the Senate in January. He will fight the fight to the last bitter day. And whether you agree with Senator Kennedy ideologically or not, there is no denying his place in his history, not only the history of the United States Senate, but the history of this nation. There is no denying that this man spent all of his adult life in the service of his country. The words "well done, my good and faithful servant" came to mind last night as Ted Kennedy turned from the podium, a vision of strength reduced to a man quite obviously waging the battle of his life.

I think often of that picture of Ted walking behind the casket of his brother, with his older brother Bobby and his sister-in-law Jackie at his side, that stoic face that said more about that man than any speech at any convention center ever has or ever will.

I think often about the changing face of the Senate, one that will not much longer be blessed with the oratory and wisdom of its most esteemed members by seniority. The Senate will miss Ted Kennedy just as it will be incomplete without him.

Last night I called my grandmother to share what I could of the moment last night when for what may be the last time this great leader took to the stage to reiterate a message of hope and foresight. Even in quoting Senator Kennedy my own voice cracked:

"[W]hen John Kennedy thought of going to the moon, he didn't say, it's too far, we can't get there, we shouldn't even try. Our people answered his call and rose to the challenge -- and today an American flag still marks the surface of the moon."

For all the campaigning, for all the hype, for all the cost, it wasn't a campaign ad or a town hall meeting that convinced me that now, more than ever, are we at a crossroads in history. It was Ted Kennedy. It was calling my grandmother to relive the moment. We stand at a crossroads. We are approaching what President Kennedy called the New Frontier and we need bold ideals, fearless leadership, and the courage of our convictions. It wasn't a man who was sworn in as a U.S. Senator in January of 2005 that taught me this, it was my old friend Teddy, a United States Senator since November of 1962 and a public servant since he was old enough to grasp the beauty of America.


Adam said...

TARA ROWE! You betta be writin this from your bed with your feet up and lotso water to drink. somebody should take that computer away from you. don't make me come over there....the docs should say this:
1. NO email
2. NO politcs
3. NO Zeb Bell
4. NO bike
5. NO blog
6. NO work
7. NO cars
8. most importent: NO KENNEDYS!!!
theres ya a list. try it on.

Barbara said...

I stood and applauded, and then I cried. I wrote about it on my blog too (http://ifididnthaveasenseofhumor.blogspot.com/)

Those of us who remember the hope the Kennedy brothers gave us still see Ted as HOPE. Ted still believes in America. For me, one sitting on the fence over who to vote for, Ted backing Obama makes me say that Obama must be the one to bring back that hope.

We'll see. I fear that regardless of what Obama can bring to the table, I would like to be surprised that this nation will set aside race. I'm doubtful it will, but will be pleasantly surprised if it does.

Ted, I hope you beat this.