Tuesday, September 8, 2009

In Search of...an "In Memoriam" redux

As the President prepares to address a joint session of Congress, a Congress that will be absent one Ted Kennedy, I thought it appropriate to reprint my original In Memoriam blog that was only up for a few hours. So here it is again -

In Memoriam
(originally printed Wednesday, August 26th, 2009)

I was up watching TV late last night when breaking news interrupted my regularly scheduled programing. Senator Ted Kennedy lost his battle with brain cancer.

I was alone on my couch, sitting silently as tears began to flow down my cheeks. I have handled the losses of the public figures that we have all lost this year with calm sympathy comparatively - from Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Natasha Richardson, and Bea Arthur to Walter Cronkite and Eunice Shriver. But Teddy? I can't even. The loss feels personal.

In many ways he is the United States Senate...or at least what is good and just about it anyway. He has been the Senator from Massachusetts my entire lifetime and the thought of a future without him there seems unthinkable. So does healthcare reform - the cause for which he fought his entire career. I'd like to think that some other senator will pick up the torch, but I'm not that optimistic when it comes to Congress.

The TV channels are flooded with footage of his life and career, most of it repetitive. There's the seemingly carefree child, impish in appearance and often overshadowed by his older brothers in early adulthood. Then there's the young senator, the plane crash survivor, the somber rock of Gibraltar walking each widowed sister-in-law in the funeral processions of his slain brothers. There is the devoted uncle escorting his niece Caroline down the aisle at her wedding in happier times, the last remaining son burying his mother, the uncle scattering his princely nephew's ashes at sea after the plane crash that took his life. There was the scandal at Chappaquiddick, the drinking, the divorce, and the re-marriage that changed him for good. If anything at all can be said of Edward Kennedy, it is that he was profoundly human.

In days to come he will be eulogized and memorialized. He will no doubt be relegated to history as the larger than life lion that he was. Young upstarts like our President will not have the benefit of his wise counsel, nor will the rest of his colleagues have the benefit of his genuine leadership and friendship. The generation that encompassed Camelot will finally be laid to rest - literally, leaving us all a little bit emptier.

Who now will fight the good fight? Who will lead and not follow? What rich white man is going to be the voice for the poor minority? Who has the strength of character to dedicate themselves to a life of real public service? Who can weather the politics and the name calling, and the shifting tides of public opinion? Who has that kind of fortitude?

Since his diagnosis with cancer, I've often thought about the Senator's inevitable passing. As I look at pictures of his huge close-knit Irish family who are all but gone (there's one left of that generation, Jean Kennedy Smith), I imagine that there is great celebrating going on in heaven. I imagine Ted being reunited with his parents and brothers and sisters after a lifetime of earthly tragedy. I imagine some raucous heavenly football game taking place. I believe the only loss that's being suffered now is our own, and it is a monumental one.

Because I am a believer in the unfettered power of those who have left their human shackles behind, I am believing for Ted to have a greater ability to usher the kind of reform in death that he could not accomplish in his time on earth. I am praying for miraculous turnarounds that begin on an individual soul level and end with legislation that benefits all of us equally for generations to come. I believe that it is possible.

So thanks for taking on the needs of a grateful nation, and rest in peace, Teddy. Rest in peace.

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