I was nine years old when Teddy Kennedy was first elected to the senate in 1962. I was one year into an all-too-brief time as a dancer, and my family was alive, including my beloved father. The large majority of my family has passed away and now Teddy Kennedy has joined them, and when the news of his death came, the pain in my heart and the instant wetting of my eyes let me know I’d just lost another family member. All Americans did.
There is so much that can be said and has been said about this truly singular human being. Again and again over these past few days stories I’ve heard about Teddy Kennedy have moved me to tears, sometimes, to be sure, tears of laughter. One of the themes present in all shared memories of him was his very real kindness and compassion for people. Not just a kindness and compassion that showed, and it showed mightily, in his remarkable spate of achievements as a senator, but his kindness and compassion for people on the personal front, and he didn’t give a damn what your party affiliation was. If life wounded you and he knew you, he was there.
At times he was there if he didn’t know you. A father from Bedford Massachusetts who’d lost his son in Iraq, in part because the Humvee the young man was in lacked the proper armor, was moved to the core of his being when, at his son’s burial service in Arlington, he turned and saw Teddy Kennedy standing there. In case you’re wondering, the father was not a Democrat.
I truly believe that if all the stories of Teddy Kennedy’s kindness and compassion were collected in one book, the book would be so great in size it would make War and Peace seem like a short story.
For those, and there are some, who inflict the knife-blade of hatred born of the poison of judgment when they speak of Teddy Kennedy, I would say this. How many people who had all three of their brothers killed, one in war, two murdered, whose nephew died in a plane crash, who himself suffered a broken back in a plane crash, would emerge demon free? Moreover, how many people would survive those tragedies, free themselves of their demons, and for nearly 50 years, engage in a lifetime of helping others? Answer? Not many.
One story that touched me to the point I broke down and wept was this. Before Teddy Kennedy left for the funeral of the slain Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, he went to Arlington Cemetery. There he gently scooped up some soil from the graves of his brothers. After the service for Rabin was over, and after the media was gone, Teddy Kennedy gently and lovingly spread the soil from his brothers’ grave on Yitzhak Rabin’s grave.
I don’t have much more to say here. Like many I have cried over the loss and rejoiced over the life of Teddy Kennedy these past few days, and there is, I know, more of both to come. I know too that I am deeply blessed to have lived in the time of Teddy Kennedy. We have all lost a member of our family, of the American family. I suspect he fully understood all Americans are part of the extraordinary tapestry that is the American family. It would be nice if more understood that.
I will miss him.