Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Goodnight, Uncle Teddy

"Those of us who loved him and who take him to his rest today, pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will some day come to pass for all the world."
--Edward M. Kennedy, eulogy of his brother Robert

I was not alive when Jack Kennedy was ripped away from this country. I did not live through those dark days in November of 1963 as the nation mourned the loss of their leader and to a certain degree the loss of their innocence. I was not alive when Bobby Kennedy was taken far too soon, dampening the hopeful spirit of young Americans all over this country. Despite what I knew, but did not dare say aloud about the grave illness Teddy Kennedy was diagnosed with, I am living through the shock and sadness of losing the Kennedy who did the most for this country.

This was bound to happen. All of the signs were there. He was not receiving visitors, not even the President of the United States. He could not attend the funeral of his sister, Eunice. For all his political clout, he was not able to lead the current health care debate as he had in the previous four decades. His days were undoubtedly numbered, yet I, like so many Americans, held onto the flicker of hope that Teddy would beat this. What is a tumor when you have overcome the emptiness of losing four siblings to tragedy, held your family legacy on your broad shoulders, survived an accident that nearly took your life and continued on to survive an accident that took the life of another? I wanted a brain tumor to be no match for the Lion of the Senate.

The chamber of the United States Senate could not contain his strong and passionate voice. His hopes for this country were not limited to the many successes he achieved during his senatorial tenure. He was never content with what he had accomplished, a legacy unmatched by any member of congress in the history of this nation, there was always something more to do. Teddy subscribed to the same playbook as his brother Jack, the playbook that emphatically stated there were indeed miles to go before either could sleep.

I cannot even begin to put into words what Senator Kennedy meant to me. In days to come, the historian in me may elaborate on the pieces of legislation that truly reshaped domestic policy in this country. In days to come, the historian in me might be more appreciative of all that is being said about Senator Kennedy's legacy. In days to come, the loss of Senator Kennedy may represent a changing governing body in Washington. Today, the loss of Senator Kennedy feels so immensely personal, I cannot change hats. Today I wear the hat of an American, a Democrat, a human being with the utmost respect and admiration for the youngest Kennedy brother.

I am not a religious person, but I have thought often of Matthew 25:21 and how relevant it is today as we lose a man who devoted his life to public service: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant." Well done, indeed. His service has surely made his brothers proud.

For every child who is safe and no longer endangered, for every child who has health insurance today, for every child who has benefited from Head Start, for every American just a bit closer to living openly in this chaotic world, for every disabled American who has a job today with rights equal to every other American, and for every American kid like me who grew up believing in everything this country is and can be because men like Jack, Bobby, and Teddy were a part of it, I want to say thank you. Thank you, Uncle Teddy, not just for who you were, but for who you fought hard to allow the rest of us to be.

1 comment:

John T. Richards Jr. said...

Thank you for that Tara. I had my first political awakening with John Kennedy, fear awakening with his assassination and hopes crushed with the assassination of Robert Kennedy. What a different world I might have grown up in were it not for those events. A better one I believe. It was gratifying to see Ted get past all the early presidential talk and unsuccessful run (unfortunately) against Carter and settle in for his decades of service to liberal causes. I didn't always agree with every position he took (but most) and like all of us, he was an imperfect being and made mistakes. Being a Senator was his destiny, to be president was not...and fortunately he was around long enough to accomplish much more than his brothers ever had an opportunity to do. John

And I know this quote is being worn out but I do like it.

"The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die."
--Ted Kennedy