Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Mourning Ted in Massachusetts

I stood at a farm stand in western Massachusetts this weekend and asked, "This is the orchard where Ted's plane crashed in 1964, isn't it?"

The proprietor looked at me and said "Yes."

That's it, just the word "yes".

I reminded myself that I am back in New England, a land of economies, even in speech. I bought a small bag of apples and left.

A news article gives more detail:

Jean Bashista of Bashista Apple Orchards, recalls that night and how her sister-in-law helped the injured senator, as he lay on the ground after the crash, before medical personnel arrived. Bashista said after the plane crash her father-in-law and her father got rid of the orchard at the crash site. Today it is a wooded area.

Ted was heading for a small airport in the town in which I currently live, when his plane crashed. His experience at a local hospital lasted over three weeks until he could be safely moved. His experience there was so positive that it is said to have been the pivotal event that inspired his thinking about health care.

I'm from Massachusetts. I lived away from this state for about 30+ years and have recently moved back. It was with deep sadness that I watched the memorial and funeral events for Ted Kennedy. The Kennedy name is almost synonymous with Massachusetts. We are theirs and they are ours, so to speak.

I wasn't born yet when Joe Jr was killed in WWII, but I was in junior high when JFK was assassinated, and in college when a bullet took Bobby. Ted is the only son of Rose and Joe Sr to not die a violent death.

I do not know how a family winds its way so deeply into the spirit of a place, but the Kennedys surely have. It feels somehow wrong to not have a Kennedy as a senator in Massachusetts.

Oh, yes, we all knew that Kennedy had stepped beyond what was proper in his personal life.

And we didn't like it. And we did not forget it.

But, as my sister-in-law succinctly said, "Despite it all, he voted the way we wanted him to." Those of us in this state who are liberals knew that we could count on Ted to vote the way he promised he would. He could nimbly cross party lines, assemble broad-ranging support and see things through. We may have hesitated before we pulled the lever for Kennedy because of his problems, but we pulled it because of his politics.

His second marriage seemed to settle his personal life down, and we were thankful for that. Relieved. As he said in his recent letter to Pope Benedict, carried by President Obama to the Pope-- “I know that I have been an imperfect human being," Kennedy wrote, “but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path."

And, as far as most of us in this state were concerned, he did turn things around. Many Massachusetts highway signs -- the ones controlled by computer -- on the day of his burial were changed to read "Thanks, Ted." People wore T-shirts that day that said. "Thanks, Ted."

As we all watched television Friday and Saturday, it was especially moving to see the White House staffers, each waiting for a chance to shout out a final "Thank You, Ted". In the days following his death, the small stories began to come out -- the former staffer who went on to the Supreme Court (Stephen Breyer) -- a family he had personally helped through a long illness -- the visits he made to the families of military men and women lost at war -- the personal letters sent to encourage, congratulate, console. We learned of the quiet acts of compassion from this larger-than-life politician.

In the words of President Obama's eulogy:

Ted Kennedy has gone home now, guided by his faith and by the light of those he has loved and lost. At last he is with them once more, leaving those of us who grieve his passing with the memories he gave, the good he did, the dream he kept alive, and a single, enduring image – the image of a man on a boat; white mane tousled; smiling broadly as he sails into the wind, ready for what storms may come, carrying on toward some new and wondrous place just beyond the horizon. May God Bless Ted Kennedy, and may he rest in eternal peace.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing with those of us who quietly mourn beyond Massachusetts.

I enjoy your work and your outlook. Thank you.

10:47 PM  
Blogger Barb said...

I, too, was in junior high the day JFK was assassinated and in college when Bobby was killed. I remember thinking then that there would be no one again worthy of my vote. The Kennedys have lost so much and we, too, with their losses.

I share Belladaze's sentiments above.

3:10 AM  

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