Picture from AP in Boston Hospital
The news of Senator Ted Kennedy’s medical condition hit everyone I talked with on Tuesday hard. Real hard. Politics did not matter, as the Kennedy family long ago passed above being just a partisan name. There is little doubt that had the same announcement been made about any one of the other 99 Senators there would have been shock and sadness, but not the deep thud that so many experienced upon hearing about Ted Kennedy. The reason is that the Kennedy family for decades has been America’s other family.
The tales of Camelot and the beautiful and handsome faces of generations of Kennedys have left their mark on the hearts and minds of millions of my fellow citizens. Their fame and feats have been the stuff of headlines and history, their times of crisis and funerals have showcased family solidarity and steadfastness. The family of doers and dreamers also faced frailties and human shortcomings, which also made the headlines, and in the end proved how very much they were like every other family in America.
Ted Kennedy came to the Senate when I was a boy, and though he was not the first politician that intrigued me, (that was Richard Nixon) Teddy was the first politician I admired. His views of how government could resolve inequalities and create a level-playing field in society were the substance of my political ideals, even now as an adult. He was the one that made goose-bumps on my arm while speaking at the 1980 Democratic convention. His final words that night at the podium was ones that inspired me.
For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.
Soon after the speech I bought a poster size piece of heavy stock paper and wrote in perfect block letters the words that Kennedy had spoken. I had it up in a visible place wherever I lived until a couple of years ago as a reminder of the mission we have in life.
When I heard the news at lunch today that Ted Kennedy had a cancerous tumor on his brain I was shocked to silence. I just listened to the news and had to let it sink in. The words from his colleagues were somber and emotional. They spoke what many of us wanted to say.
The fact that this family will at times dominate the news in the days and weeks to come is because the networks know what we all feel. This is not about a famed Senator or a political dynasty as much as it is about a family that we care about. A family that fascinates us and caused us to clip pictures of them from magazines over the years and wonder when JFK Jr. would marry, and how Caroline’s kids were doing.
We have been proud of them at weddings and cried with them at funerals. In the days to come we will pray for them and urge Teddy to fight this battle for himself like the ones he fought for all of us over the years in the Senate.
With all his heart.