So many times since his death, I've heard about how--even in the last months of his life--he wanted to be there & wanted to help take care of his friends, even as his own health failed and as he needed assistance himself. Til the end, it seems, Senator Kennedy still believed that it wasn't all about him...it was about those people who needed him & who loved him & who gave his life purpose. He was the youngest of his siblings who, through misfortune & unspeakable loss, grew to become the patriarch not simply of the family with whom he shared blood lines, but of a political family throughout the entire country with whom he shared common values.
One of the many stories I heard from one of his friends was about the time a reporter had asked Senator Kennedy how, with his near-aristocratic station in life, he spent so much time speaking about & seeking to help those much less privileged than he, and he asked the reporter, "Haven't you ever read the Bible?". The Kennedys never wanted for anything, thanks to his father, Joe Kennedy's financial prowess, but it was Rose Kennedy who instilled in all her children the idea that"to whom much is given, much is required". That early life lesson combined with the loss of his two older brothers who had sought public service through elected office--and both of whom gave their lives in the process--impressed upon Teddy the unique responsibility that was his as the last Kennedy brother. I cannot begin to imagine what a heavy burden that was for Teddy Kennedy.
I know that he was not a perfect man, and he was known for his raucous personal life & his own personal foibles & mistakes, but Teddy Kennedy believed in redemption, and he worked tirelessly--especially in the last half of his life--to earn it. Senator Kennedy fought valiantly to give voice to those--as Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia recently described them--"those whose needs exceed their political clout." He didn't win every fight & he still left this world with an unfinished agenda, but he was never petty or small about it. Teddy Kennedy kept the faith & fought on & stood for his values relentlessly & regardless of the prevailing political winds because he believed so deeply in what he wanted to do & what he wanted his country to be.
Franklin Roosevelt, before he was President, in nominating the former governor of New York, Alfred Smith, at the 1924 Democratic Party Convention, called him "The Happy Warrior" for his work at ending racial violence, and I think the same appellation would befit the former senior Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, except that Senator Kennedy never saw his work as a war...he saw it as a work of the heart, where there need not be any more casualties.
In hearing all these tributes to this true American legend, I was reminded of a verse in the Bible I learned back in Sunday School, from Proverbs 27:19:
so a man's heart reflects the man.
In my mind, as life was finally leaving Teddy's body, I just know that his heart was the last part of his physical being to stop...but in every one of us inspired by this great man, his heart & his ideals & the dream about which he always spoke & for which he gave his last full measure will live on long after the temporal shell crumbles away.
After all, isn't the dream supposed to outlast the dreamer?