New Heathens
26Aug/09Off

Asking Not

In case you didn't notice, I try to keep this blog about music. And trout. (Sometimes buffalo and sharks too.) Point is I try to stick with topics that would cause the least fights at the most dinner tables.

But sometimes a headline is so big that not saying something speaks louder than saying something.

Ted Kennedy died today, finally joining his three brothers Joseph, who was shot down in World War II, John, murdered in Dallas in 1963, and Robert, assassinated in Los Angeles in 1968.

The Kennedys have been on my mind a lot lately because last week I read a biography of Robert F. Kennedy called The Last Campaign. Every page broke my heart, but one story hit me hardest. Bobby Kennedy visited the impoverished Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota during his 1968 run for president, despite it being of little political benefit. There he befriended a 10-year-old Sioux orphan named Christopher Pretty Boy.

RFK spent hours with the boy, talking with him, holding his hand. Then he invited Christopher Pretty Boy and his sister to spend the summer at his house in Hyannispoint, Mass. He would take those two children into his own family.

Bobby, paraphrasing the Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus, said, "Perhaps we can not prevent this world from being a world in which children are suffering, but we can reduce the number of suffering children."

Tragically, neither Robert Kennedy nor Christopher Pretty Boy survived the year. But then, the name "Kennedy" is synonymous with "tragedy."

Teddy never lived down Chappaquiddick, nor should he have. He killed Mary Jo Kopechne and didn't tell police until her body was discovered. Maybe grief drove him to drink. Maybe cowardice kept him alive and not her.

Teddy then went on to have one of the most distinguished senatorial careers of anyone in the last century. He gave Americans more civil rights, women's rights, health insurance, paid maternity leave, health care for poor kids, and immigration reform, among countless other things.

A lot of people hated him for it.

Driving around New Jersey for work today all the talk shows were about Kennedy. One man told how after he broke his neck Teddy handwrote him a letter about courage and healing. Another woman said that when her father was in the hospital Teddy called him almost daily. A 9/11 widow said that Ted Kennedy called her in the midst of her grief and invited her sailing on his yacht in Massachusetts.

It's reminiscent of RFK inviting Christopher Pretty Boy to spend the summer with his family.

Despite their enormous inherited fortunes, the Kennedy brothers were shot through with the value that people with the most have a moral responsibility to give the most -- in service and comfort -- to the people with least. The Kennedys not only preached that from the political pulpit, they did it. Two examples are the orphan in South Dakota and the widow in New York.

The Kennedys never, ever asked anybody to do anything that they would not do themselves.

I think that's their family's legacy.

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  1. Thank you. That is it, exactly.


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