An Ode to Senator Ted Kennedy
I was filled with sadness learning of Senator Kennedy’s death this morning. Even though I hail from Boston originally, I didn’t know him personally. Yet, I felt a bright light had gone out, a light that has been there leading us out of the darkness for many years. I know, Kennedy had his detractors, his enemies and problems. He was a real human being, not a sainted Kennedy for sure. Not so much in the big gun of president. But rather, he has been working away on important issues for many years and really taking a stance on healthcare. OSHA, COBRA, CHIPS, WIC, all of these programs were spearheaded and created by legislation he wrote. He was passionate about this cause because he himself had a glimpse of the burden of extensive injury and care after an accident in the 60’s. I know that I have used several of these programs over the years, COBRA for one has helped my family make several transitions.
I had no idea of Kennedy’s influence till I had to do a paper on medical ethics and legislation when I was at Boston College in the late 70’s. As I sat in the Boston Public Library reading legislation, discourse after discourse, Sen. Kennedy’s rational, compassionate voice rang through. I was astonished at his knowledge, research and grasp of the medical. But moreover I first heard the real seeds of a Catholicism that spoke to my social activist roots, social justice and compassion that meant taking a stand for others, even when you might be well off and rubbing people the wrong way. Kennedy reached out from a privileged life to contribute real economic difference to others and to guide his colleagues to make a difference as well. He was a lightening bolt because he took his job seriously, and was so informed that he was able to hold ground that few could muster.
I was, and continue to be inspired by this man. He showed us what real democracy is all about. Democracy doesn’t work unless we have rules to go by. Rules that not only inform the larger society, but those that inform us personally and deeply. Rules that we wrestle with and make mistakes about and learn from those mistakes to make better rules. Self governance is what it is all about, and self governance is not an easy task. It takes tremendous courage to face oneself and shape opinions born out of experience, have a public face and take a stand. To make mistakes and to keep standing there. Not for the faint of heart! And yet why do we rely on the Kennedy’s of the world to do it all for us? Aren’t we all responsible for the shaping of our country? Why don’t we all have the courage to look inside and speak from our own experiences of lack or hard knocks?
Sen. Kennedy found a way to work within the system he was in to bring people together because his passion and vision to see a country that took care of the health of its people spoke so loudly to him and he listened to it. Having not only dealt with his own health, but having witnessed tremendous health issues in his own large family, like many of us, he knew of the preciousness of life and incredible power of modern medicine to deal with so many diseases and conditions. But he was also aware of the tremendous power of greed, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, and forces within our own government who do not want an empowered and healthy nation. In the face of that, he was a formidable voice and worked tirelessly for change.
I thank Sen. Kennedy for his many years of service, struggle, leadership and compassion. I thank him for walking a line between ration and ideology, between what is right and what can be accomplished. I thank him for persevering through so many personal tragedies, mistakes and moments of humility that show us that you don’t have to be perfect to be a politician, you just have to keep doing your job. As an Irishwoman, I raise a pint in his honor, and I hope the winds of God blow gently on him and guide him to his next leg of the journey.