I read much concerning the achievements of Ted Kennedy from the day he died to now, which I write as his funeral motorcade winds its way to Arlington National Cemetery. Besides his legislative accomplishments, many of the articles pointed out his personal ones, often in contrast to his personal failings. He could have given up after the Chappaquiddick incident. Indeed, a lesser man would have wallowed in his grief at being, at least, partly responsible for a young woman’s death, if for no other reason than that he drove the car that claimed her life. He could have chosen to deflect blame. He could have decided that his actions in not reporting the accident until the next day would define him for the rest of his life. Perhaps, in a way, they did. That is something that only Teddy would know. But whether it was the memory of his brothers or the memory of Mary Jo Kopechne, something drove him to serve for so long, and with such distinction, in the U.S. Senate.
Note: I wrote this blog on Saturday, but didn’t publish it till today.
Searching reactions from others concerning his death, one notices two things: 1.) all of the positive comments are by people who knew him, or had direct contact with him at some point in their lives, 2.) all of the derogatory comments are by people who didn’t know him, who lambast him for Chappaquiddick and his behavior before he met and married his second wife–before she saved him, as he put it. And, out of those positive comments (for negative comments by strangers are as useful to me as criticisms of a movie by a random audience member), I can understand why the man was so beloved.
He truly cared about people.
He cared about his constituents. He cared about his colleagues. He cared about his friends. He cared about his adversaries. And, most of all, he cared about his family.
As for his success, that can be explained, too. He became this century’s greatest Senator (if greatness is to be decided by the quality of bills that one helps to pass and/or author) through hard work. Hard work and a great staff. It wasn’t due to talent, though he had talent. It wasn’t due to the strength of his arguments, though he made them as strong as he could. Hard work, combined with his love of people, respect of people, translated into the passage of major bills. The Civil Rights Act. The Immigration and Nationality Act. The Americans with Disabilities Act. And many, many more.
But it’s his life that we can learn the most from. Here was a man who had one brother die in combat and two more assassinated, whose nephew died with his wife and her sister in a plane crash while heading to his cousin’s wedding, and another who died in a skiing accident. A man who, at the end of his life, battled brain cancer for fourteen months before succumbing to it. And yet, during all that time, he served the lowest, served with the highest, and befriended many, both low and high. If there are lessons to be learned from Ted Kennedy’s life, they are these:
1.) Don’t let tragedies define you, whether they are personal tragedies or national ones.
2.) If you don’t have the talent of others, work harder than they do, and you’ll succeed.
3.) You can compromise the details, but don’t compromise your convictions.
4.) You can disagree with someone and still be friends with them.
5.) A sense of humor always helps.
6.) Give to those who have less than you do. Help those who need it more than you do.
Rest in peace, Teddy. A nation mourns your passing.