HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

Ted Kennedy: A Good and Decent Man

Posted on | May 22, 2008 | No Comments

How he described Bobby is how we might describe him

The news of Ted Kennedy’s brain tumor is deeply upsetting on so many levels, running the gamut from personal to professional. For political foes and fans alike, most publicly acknowledged that he has become a great senator, capable of working both sides of the aisle while remaining true to his ideals; a lion on policy with a human touch, a ready laugh, a feel for the personal. Most would recognize his humanity and imperfections, as they would his solid and steady self-improvement; his belief in America and her ideals; his committment to service, and loyalty and devotion to family; and his courage and strength against obstacles and tragedies that would collapse most of us.

What is Ted thinking now? I would guess about the future and what needs to be done! How will he prevail against this newest threat? We can draw some clue from his words on June 8, 1968 as he eulogized his brother, Robert. He remembered and repeated his brother’s words of advice to a group of young South Africans in June, 1966 in the shadow of Aparthied, which would persist for eight more years:

“The answer is to rely on youth, not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease. The cruelties and obstacles of this swiftly changing planet will not yield to the obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans; they cannot be moved by those who cling to a present that is already dying, who prefer the illusion of security to the excitement and danger that come with even the most peaceful progress…. Each time a man stands for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope…. And I believe that in this generation those with the courage to enter the moral conflict will find themselves with companions in every corner of the globe….”

When Apartheid finally broke in 1994,  Anthony Lewis, a columnist for the New York Times, wrote of Robert Kennedy’s visit: “In a trip to South Africa in 1966 he challenged the tyranny and fear that then had the country in its grip. At a time when few diplomats visited black townships or entertained black leaders, Senator Kennedy identified with the black majority and with all the victims of repression… he gave many South Africans, black and white, courage to fight injustice- and reason to believe that some in the outside world would care.”

Clearly, this family has demonstrated a unique ability to deal with adversity, embrace change, and focus on the future without ignoring the past. They are accessible and human, but in a super-human way. On his brother’s death, Ted said: “My brother need not be idealized or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life. He should be remembered simply as a good and decent man who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.” And so it is with Ted. God bless him and his family, and guide us.

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