Friday, August 28, 2009

Would you choose Jack’s Life or Teddy’s?

Yesterday, the last of the three Kennedy brothers died. It seems to me generations since his brothers were assassinated. Everyone of my generation remembers the Kennedy’s as our royalty. Brilliant, handsome Jack, who was a war hero, our youngest President, and then cut down senselessly here in Dallas in his prime.

He was a movie star. He was unblemished, a child of the American generation when we had never lost a war and stood a colossus in the world—when we were young.

To an Athlete Dying Young by A. E. Housman (1859-1936)

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.
To-day, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.
Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields were glory does not stay
And early though the laurel growsIt withers quicker than the rose. . . .

Ted Kennedy lived a very different life. He lived through the tragedy of the assassination of both his older brothers, inherited their mantle and then soiled it with the scandal of Chappaquiddick. He knew sadness and defeat and lived long after the glory of youth had past.

Living long—he served 42 years in the Senate—he outlived scandal and sorrow to become The Lion of the Senate, an unparalleled legislator responsible for much of the progressive legislation of the past forty years.

Ted Kennedy will never match the glorious memory of his older brother, but his real accomplishments may have been greater—Headstart, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Family Leave and 2500 other pieces of legislation bear his name.


Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears,
I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Even on his deathbed Ted Kennedy was thinking of the causes he had fought for his entire life. One of his last acts was to ask the Massachusetts legislature to change the law so that the governor could appoint a temporary replacement for him. He did not want his death to prevent the passage of healthcare reform.

Would you rather live Jack’s life or Teddy’s? Would you rather be a shooting star burned up by your own brilliance or a candle flickering on long into the night until exhausted, the light finally goes out?

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