The late Senator Ted Kennedy and I met at a luncheon in Washington DC. Though he and I end up on opposite sides of many political discussions, he represented something that is larger than any philosophical difference. To me, he represented a “comeback” kid and an ideologue whose family’s presence broke the proverbial glass ceiling for Irish Americans.
To me, his defining moment was not in front of the Senate or Democratic National Convention. It was before some cameras, taking personal responsibility for his past and our future: “I recognize my own shortcomings — the faults in the conduct of my private life. I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them. I believe that each of us as individuals must not only struggle to make a better world, but to make ourselves better, too.”
That act of contrition spoke volumes to Americans. Some have criticized that he wasn’t more specific. I think his confession was appropriate for the cameras and one that was accepted by his Creator.
His larger than life personality was captured by a humble gregariousness (if that’s possible). In my mind, by being true to himself, he earned his stripes for his family and for his Irish heritage. The Kennedy family was to Irish Americans what the Obama family is to African Americans.
While time has passed with generation after generation, the Irish were once looked at as the doormat of European and American society. It started decades before An Gorta Mor (the great Irish famine) and poured out on the Streets of Boston, New York and Philadelphia until decades ago. The Kennedy family provided Irish respect and pride to be seen as equals in a corrupt society.
While I can understand that some people might find the Kennedy funeral coverage as overkill. I also know that their perspective is limited to recent sound bites and political commentary and not the larger picture of the unspoken accomplishment of equality.
May the road rise to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rain fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of his hand.