Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Todd and I briefly discussed Senator Ted Kennedy's death at dinner this evening. Todd has absolutely no use for the man because of Chappaquiddick. I have more ambivalent feelings--knowing that he committed negligent homicide and got away with it, and yet knowing all that he did for this country and the groundbreaking laws that he worked to pass, it's pretty hard for me to say how I feel about the guy.
It's been interesting to read and hear from people who actually knew him as a friend and who testify to Kennedy being someone who wanted desperately to help other people and to give his friends and family anything they needed that he could give.
I said to Todd that I certainly wouldn't want to be remembered only for the worst things I'd done in my life. Of course, I haven't committed anything quite as egregious as some of Kennedy's sins. (Not yet, anyway, but hey, I'm still young.)
I've wondered before, and thought of it again today, whether the biggest sinners out there might not also (if they've experienced grace and taken it to heart) be the most compassionate people out there, too. It's easier to have compassion for other people's failings when you're all too aware of your own tremendous failings. It's easier to see people's pain and regrets when you carry around a huge pile of your own. Maybe it's easier to see people as human beings who deserve rights and respect when you've been in situations where you had to take an uncomfortable look at your own humanity.
I certainly don't know if any of this is true of Senator Kennedy, but some of what I've heard and read today makes me think it might be. The Kennedy men have always interested me--such inspirational public lives, such degraded private lives. It fascinates me to read a biography and look at a life and try to balance the good and the bad in it, and Senator Kennedy's life has much larger goods and bads than most people's, that's for sure. If it's not fair to laud him without remembering Mary Jo Kopechne, I also don't think it's fair to condemn him without remembering civil rights, voting rights, rights for the disabled, OSHA, COBRA, FMLA, Title IX, AIDS research and care, Head Start, WIC, Meals on Wheels, and a host of other things that have made the U.S. a better country.
Just some stuff I was thinking about today while cleaning out the closet and listening to NPR.
I've always found this eulogy he gave for his brother Robert to be extremely moving.