Sunday, August 30, 2009


Several decades ago, Gail Sheehy's book Passages came out. It was an interesting although light read. But, much of what she said stuck with me. She came up with some catchy phrases to identify stages that we pass through on our adult journeys--the trying 20s, the Catch 30s, the Forlorn 40s, the Refreshed 50s. I don't think she went into the Sizzling 60s (my term. at least I think it is).

Watching the coverage of the Ted Kennedy funeral this week, I thought--my life passages have been marked, to a limited extent, by Kennedy deaths.

It was a Friday. I was a sophomore in college, and a member of the debate team. We were getting ready to head off campus for an inter-collegiate debate. I think we were going to Fordham University in New York City. Suddenly, the news came through that President John F. Kennedy had been shot, while on a trip to Dallas, Texas.

A year before, my classmates and I, completely fresh freshmen, had listened anxiously through several days as the United States and the Soviet Union inched toward a seemingly inevitable nuclear confrontation. Under President Kennedy's hand, such a showdown was averted.

I was not initially a Kennedy supporter. I grew up in a solidly Republican environment. I vividly remember walking to a neighbor's house to watch the Kennedy-Nixon debates. I was living with my mother's sister, my aunt, for a year after my parents had returned to their mission work in Africa. Television was a rarity then, and my aunt and her family did not have one. But this neighbor did. So, in this solidly Republican area of Pennsylvania, we watched and cheered on Richard Nixon, convinced that he was the heir apparent to President Eisenhower's peaceful time as President. Of course, we all know Kennedy won the election. I was stunned--how could it be that a godless Democrat--and a Catholic at that--had won the presidency.

Now, three years later, we were grief stricken at the news of his having been shot. And then the news was compounded and deepened--President Kennedy had died. I suppose if I had to pick a single moment that marked my transition from childhood to adulthood, it would be that death.

Fast forward five years. I had finished my undergraduate years, and a year at graduate school. A newly minted master's student, I had returned to my alma mater to teach. I had just finished the school year. It was one of my first days home, and I was sleeping in. When I got up, I turned on the television, curious to know what if any news there was.

The calm of that early summer morning was destroyed by the unbelievable news--Robert Kennedy had been shot and killed. By now, my husband--of all of 6 months--and I were moving away from being Republicans. Bobby Kennedy had caught our imaginations. He was so fresh, so wonderful a change from Lyndon Johnson who was care-worn and seemingly incapable of ending the horrific war in Vietnam. Bobby Kennedy offered hope that we could recapture some of the idealistic enthusiasm that had made the 1960s such heady years. And now he was dead.

His death, so close on the heels of Martin Luther King's assassination, seemed to rob us of all hope that right could prevail.

Of course, there have been many milestones in my life in the years between Bobby's death and Teddy's death. 1968 to 2009. Much happens in 41 years. My husband and I, so disillusioned by Nixon's betrayal of the country in Watergate, switched to the Democratic party. Our children were born, and grew, and went to college and graduate school, graduating successfully. They have found their own life partners.

Several years ago, I retired (sort of) and have turned my attention to gratifying endeavors, such as teaching at my community college. There are many good things in life yet to come--including our daughter's wedding, and some day--we pray--grandchildren.

And now, the last of the Kennedy brothers has died. Teddy's death doesn't really mark a specific moment in my life. But there is a sunset aspect to many things these days. Next year, I will be qualified for Medicare--so I am in the senior status here. Perhaps that sunset glow has colored my view.

There is a bitter sweetness to contemplating Teddy Kennedy's life. As some commentators noted, he was granted the gift of time that his brothers were denied. As a result, he saw his children grown, and married. He saw his grandchildren born and growing. He found work that he relished, that enriched him as he enriched the world. He was able to grow beyond the painful mistakes of his youth and make a genuine contribution to improve the world.

It is a measure of a life that we all can envy.


Jayne said...

Regardless of how people saw his politics, the man walked the walk and talked the talk when it came to his passion for those with no voice. May light perpetual shine upon him.

dog-geek said...

Nice post, KGMom. I think you captured my feelings perfectly - I have nothing to add!

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I guess everyone remembers where they were when President Kennedy was when he was shot. I was driving home from University for the weekend in my Austin car I was on hwy 401 near Milton exit.
It was a stunning event he was after all Canada's President too! Well, that is how we felt. It would be a while before we got our own charming suave leader, Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

We never did understand the prejudice against Catholic heads of state. Canada, with our French Canadian population had always had Catholic politicians.

I was living in Roxbury, Ma. when Robert Kennedy was killed. I was still trying to get over DR. King's death, he has been an inspiration for me.

As I have written before. I am of the generation that had all their heros violently taken away: the Kennedy's, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Che Guevara. It took some of the shine off the Idealism that motivated us.

As much as I have admired Senator Kennedy's achievements I can't help thinking of Mary Jo Kapecknic whenever his name is spoken. I am not even sure how that was finally resolved. It was a messy affair and explanation. He was protected ( got off) because he was a child of privilege and connection. I do know he showed very bad judgement that day acting only out of self interest. I trust his good works somewhat balanced the scale.

possumlady said...

When I heard that Ted Kennedy died I was so hoping he died in the early morning hours of the 26th, but no, he died late on the 25th, my 50th birthday.

I watched all the proceedings from his Irish wake on Friday night to the funeral mass on Saturday.

I was too young to remember President Kennedy but I distinctly remember Bobby Kennedy being shot when I was 10 years old. Before they announced that he died I went into my backyard with my plastic statue of the virgin Mary, put her on a stump and gathered all the dandelions I could and positioned them around the statue and prayed he would be all right.

My remembrances of Ted Kennedy started off not good with the rape trial of his nephew. He seemed like a lecherous old drunk at the time. My view of him has taken a 180 degree turn for the better.

As Teddy believed, I also believe in redemption and he certainly redeemed himself with all the causes he championed and especially after his marriage to Vicki Reggie. I was blown away by all the stories of help that he quietly gave to all his friends and constituents. All this while still dealing with daily chronic back pain.

(As a young 23 year old senate staffer, I literally ran into him one day coming out of the Senate credit union. I was so flustered and apologized as he put his hands on both my shoulders to steady me and laughed and said I needed to slow down. I can think of many other Senators who would not have been so gracious.)

Scattering Lupines said...

I really enjoyed hearing all of these accounts on Kennedy and U.S. history. I am only 25 years old :)

JeanMac said...

Your did a great job on this piece.I remember all 3 men so well and their places in history.