Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward M. Kennedy

I was in high school Spanish class waiting for school to be dismissed early so students could go downtown and see President John F. Kennedy when the world changed. President Kennedy never came to Austin. The school principal announced that he had been shot in Dallas and sent us home. I reached my house in time to see Walter Cronkite announce that President Kennedy was dead.

I don't think I even knew he had a brother Ted then. As I went on to college, I became more aware of the Kennedy clan. I mourned Robert Kennedy even though I thought him wrong to oppose Lyndon Johnson. And I remember Chappaquiddick. At the time, I thought Ted Kennedy got off lightly, but now I know he payed a great price - the Presidency of the United States. I believe that was a just punishment.

The atonement demanded by his great failure made him a great Senator. Over the years, I slowly became an admirer of the Senator. (The New York Times has provided a time line of his life.) He became the champion of what he was not: the working class, the disabled, and the poor. He wanted the nation he loved to provide a good education, a decent working wage and adequate health care for all. He fought tirelessly for those goals.

Senator Kennedy was a man of deep flaws but of great achievement. I think that his greatness was achieved because of those flaws. A more perfect man would have had nothing to prove, nothing to atone for. Sin can be defined as falling short of the target. Senator Kennedy fell short, but in seeking forgiveness, he reached a higher goal, service to others ('I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'), and gave us all hope that in our failures we can find future success.

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