Of all the stories about Senator Kennedy in this morning's Globe, this one reached out and grabbed me. It's about Ted Kennedy quietly attending wakes for local servicemen killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and sharing a gift of insight arising out of sheer, damned misfortune--nobody knows better then he what it's like to get the bitter news that turns your life upside down.
There's a tiny detail in the article recalling the first time it happened, a death forgotten or never known by those who don't follow Kennedy history. It was August, 1944, in the midst of World War II, when a priest came to the door of the family home to tell them that the oldest Kennedy son, "Joe Jr," had been killed in a bombing raid over Germany. Ted was just a kid at the time, the youngest of nine. That man on the doorstep in his black clothing, bringing bad news that couldn't be unsaid, must have left a mark.
And then there was the dark morning he was the *cause* of someone else getting that visitor on the doorstep, because of the drunken car accident in which a young woman died, and Kennedy in the wrongest, lowest moral moment of a life with a lot to shudder at, hid out like a coward for hours before calling police.
What amazes me out of all that was how he would still get up every day and work at his job. Not just go to a job, but work and try and struggle at public service which he in no way had to do. Love the guy's politics, or hate them. All that, and he kept on getting up and trying to do the right thing!
Many of us have had that "man on the door step" moment. It's not always sudden death, but the moment when an imminent loss, a feared failure, an inescapable sorrow, came in at the front door, and said its piece, and changed our world for good.
"I'm sorry, we're having cutbacks, and your job . . ."
"I'm sorry you found out this way, but our marriage . . ."
"I'm calling from the police station . . . "
"I'm sorry, but the test came back positive . . ."
Because the truth of the matter is that many of us are just outright crushed by sorrow, and by shock. We just never f*cking get over it, whatever "it" was.
Even more, many of us are crushed by shame, self-loathing, by acid disappointment in ourselves when we look in the mirror, by the knowledge of our own contribution to the low-point we're at. Screwing up, screwing up that horribly and publicly and unfixably, would prevent most of us from ever again even trying to anything worthwhile, let alone spending another thirty years trying to get it right.
Don't get me wrong, sometimes Ted Kennedy was still a sh*tty guy. He was hell on his first wife, it took him years of drinking and womanizing to get straight, years that no ordinary working person would likely be loaned. He and the rest of his clan are T Wealthy, the born-rich, born-connected, two percent of Americans who have fifty percent of the power in this country, and worse, pass it on to their kids, at the expense of yours, and I don't forget that just because he's a Kennedy and a Democrat.
But from the point of view of Ted Kennedy the man, I can admire the moral courage of getting up in the morning, walking out the door, and getting on with it. Having room in his heart for the sorrows and struggles of total strangers at that. Ted Kennedy, role model for the f*ck up in us all.
(Edited to fix a few typos)