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Letter From Home 8/30/09

August 30, 2009

It has been a week of memories, melancholy, and musings about the past.  It has been one of those weeks when I had to seek out time to be alone to reflect about the news and images that were bombarding the airwaves in the aftermath of  Senator Ted Kennedy’s death.  The absolute necessity of some solitude in long walks, or while sitting and looking out over the lake while contemplating the life and times of one of my political heroes, was essential.   As I walked, sat, and thought it dawned on me I was missing more than my favorite senator, I was also missing a part of America that somehow slipped away into yesteryear.

Years ago at the statehouse I knew a woman who had grown up in the depression, married a soldier who went to fight in World War II, and loved and revered both President Roosevelt and Truman.  She read constantly about this period of time and thought often about the larger than life political and military leaders who led the nation to victory.   I recall telling her once that the History Channel concentrated too much on the ‘the big war’, which only made her wonder if I had any sense of history at all!    I could never understand why she felt so nostalgic about such a comparatively limited period in our nation’s history.  

But I now find myself in something of the same ‘condition’ as she was in the years I knew her.  While I have much broader interests for history than she did; mine spans continents and eras, I feel most warm and comfortable with those cast of characters from my childhood and early adult years.  While  I am certainly contemporary, I also am clearly nostalgic.

This week after the news of Kennedy’s death was reported I pulled from my shelves the volume written by Doris Kearns Goodwin, “The Fitzgeralds And The Kennedys” and thumbed through it again.  Back in 1996 when I was undergoing a medical situation that left me less than chipper, I had taken the book with me to my childhood home in Hancock and delved into the chapters while sitting in the living room and watching the fall leaves flutter to the ground from the oaks.  There were many books I could have read, but I recall that I was feeling so awful that I knew I needed the most interesting read I could find.  As such it was a book about the family that had held my attention all of my life.  The Kennedy family had always been a world of political excitement and drama  through the years of my growing up.  As a teenager Ted Kennedy would become the person I most respected as the philosophical model for what I felt a political leader should sound like on the issues that were important.  Like many people my age who were born in 1962, there was always a Senator Kennedy to lead the charge. 

And then he was gone this week.

But as I watched the old newsreels this past week on televison, it became very clear that not only was Kennedy gone, but also a whole era had ended.  It is not as if I was not already aware of  that fact over the past years.  I was, and in fact post about this type of thing often.  But somehow it seemed more real and official with the death of Ted Kennedy.  Off camera reporters would be talking in the newsreels that were aired this week, and just by the voice I could identity Roger Mudd, John Chancellor, David Brinkley, and there among the grainy images was Frank Reynolds who I admired so much as a teenager.  While we have a whole wide array of reporters and anchors on the all-news channels I seriously doubt if 30 years from now just the sound of their voice will connect so easily.  Not that they are not hard working, but it is a different time of so many competing voices that it is harder for anyone to lift above the crowd.  I also think, with no arrow aimed anywhere, that many are not and never will be heavyweights of the kind that are forever etched on the old newsreels that ran constantly this week.

The same is true of the political caliber of our elected officials.  Many bright thinkers are in the Senate today, but who upon their death will produce the outpouring of emotion as we are seeing this week?  As much as I admire House Speaker Pelosi, she is a mere shadow to the legendary Tip O’Neill.  Now there was a politician!  On the world stage there once was Mao, Brezhnev, and Thatcher.  Hu, Putin, and Brown just lack any of the sizzle of an earlier age.

It is as if a chapter of a larger book somehow turned a page this week.  I certainly will be following along with the latest twists and turns of the world, (as a news junkie I need to) but like the lady back at the statehouse I will also be turning back the pages and reading about the times that were somehow more comforting with a cast of characters that were larger than life.

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