Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Tis you, 'tis you, must go and I must bide"

There seems to be something sad and deadly about the last days before Labor Day. Princess Diana died on August 31, Mother Teresa on Sept. 5, and now Ted Kennedy on August 26 (which happens to be Mother Teresa’s birthday.)

For generations we Americans have watched in awe the strangest “reality show” that is the Kennedy's story. The scope of their tale alone is compelling: Joe senior and Rose connecting back to the beginning of the last century, his rise through her family’s power in Boston, though slighted and snubbed by the city’s Brahmins.

The effect of World War 11 on the clan: Joe Sr. and his appeasement, defeatist stance as Ambassador to the Court of St. James that ended his own political career; Joseph Jr. dying in a plane explosion during the war, and the effervescent Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy dying in a plane crash in 1948 in France.

The postwar reign and murder of John F. Kennedy. And then Bobby.

These threads of history conspired to move Ted into a leadership position personally and publicly. Whereas JFK was too good looking and RFK too earnest for most people to identify closely with, Ted was the brother that was easiest to understand. He had all the issues of being the youngest in a large, overtly competitive family. He had a comparatively lightweight intellect. He had a reckless side fueled by alcohol, which hurt his family, and in that extremeness that haunted the Kennedys, took the life of a young woman.

How does one man cope with this much pain? This much destiny?

The stories of Ted Kennedy this week focus on the idea of redemption. How Ted’s tireless work in the Senate to deliver tangible help to the working class, to the voiceless was the salvation of his political life, just as his stabilizing second marriage to Victoria probably saved his very life.

Redemption. The perfect concept for Edward Kennedy. Joe Jr.’s entire motivation in life was to be included in the power structure that had kept out Irish Catholics. You don’t get the impression that Joe was a personally religious man, but his own identity was completely informed by both his national roots and faith. He could have tried to assail the power elite by downplaying this twin albatross around his neck, but he did the opposite. He instilled in his family the deepest feeling of “us versus them,” and that they as a family would wield power on their own, proud terms. Very Irish.

The Church will bury this last son of the American royal family. If he believes its teaching, he will be reunited with Rose and Joseph, Joe Jr., Jack, Rosemary, Kick, Eunice, Patricia, Robert. And Mary Jo Kopechne. Dies irae.

Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem.

Lord, all pitying, Jesus blest, grant them thine eternal rest. Amen.

They did not play "Danny Boy" at Kennedy's funeral, but it plays it my head whenever I think of that ritual for him.
Oh Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling 
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you,'tis you, must go and I must bide.
But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow

Oh Danny boy, oh Danny boy, I love you so.

And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.

And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my grave will warmer, sweeter be
For you will bend, and tell me that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.