Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Kennedy

I was awake at 3:00 a.m. this morning, unable to sleep and folding laundry, when the news broke: Senator Edward M. Kennedy, my Senator, had died.

Like so many, I didn't know Ted Kennedy personally but feel as though I did. He's held that office my entire life, and I've had the pleasure of contacting his office on a number of occasions, most often to request a letter of congratulations for a 50th wedding anniversary or a retirement (a mandatory task if you're first- or second-generation Irish Catholic in these parts). No matter who I spoke with, I was never made to feel as though I was bothering them, that my request was too small to trouble a U.S. Senator with. He was from the old school of politics, where the phrase “all politics is local” truly meant something.

As a middle-class working mom, I appreciate all that he did for us and our children – so many acts and laws that affect our families’, and particularly our children’s, health and education, had his stamp, his touch, on them. He even appeared on an episode of PBS’ “Fetch!”, epitomizing the idea that no constituent is too young.

And while I often didn't agree with his stances on certain issues, I admired the man. Somehow, in the days where personal issues derail the majority of political aspirations, he was able to maintain two identities in public; his fallible personal persona and the political “Liberal Lion”. Somehow his private life and its ups and downs never fully derailed his political career.

What struck me more, what I think reached most of us and kept us voting him back to the Senate term after term, was not so much the Kennedy name but the glimpses of his personal side during times of joy and tragedy: his voice quivering when delivering his brother Bobby’s eulogy or his mother Rose’s, Jackie leaning against him after he walked Caroline down the aisle, his shoulders slumped as he watched his sons and nephews carry the coffin of his nephew JFK Jr.’s off the ship after it had been recovered, the defiant joy on his face and his nieces’ tears as he addressed the 2008 Democratic National Convention against doctors’ orders. You could relate to the joys and the losses that he and his entire family had to publically share. And most of us realized, when he was unable to attend his own sister Eunice's funeral a few weeks ago, how close he was to the end of his battle.

One commentator early this morning commented on what this loss would mean to the Kennedy family, noting that for many of “The Next Generation” who had lost their dads so early on, Ted had been their father figure through the years. He was their “Teddy”, their uncle, present at all the graduations and weddings, at the family’s celebrations and when they mourned. Having lost loved ones, most of us have an idea of just how big a hole there is today in the lives of his wife, his children and grandchildren, his sister, his nieces and nephews, and his friends and staff.

God Bless You, Senator Ted Kennedy. May you be welcomed into the loving arms of all who have gone before you, and watch over those left behind.

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