It is with shock and dread, albeit much anticipated, that I heard of Ted Kennedy's passing this morning. My muse has been somewhat groggy since my mom's passing this Spring, and I am juggling a range of emotions and a series of body blows from 2009. It seems that whoever is in charge of these things wanted to make certain that everyone who was anyone should be taken away from us this year. My wife tells me it's my mom's doing: A lady who loved a party, she could not bear the hereafter without calling some other greats to be with her. John Updike, Frank McCourt, Walter Cronkite, Michael Jackson, and now Senator Kennedy.
I am disheartened, and find myself grasping to recapture my creative Aladdin's Lamp these past months. And though words mostly fail me now, I can't help but reflect on my family's history and how Kennedy drama fueled our early days, from our grandparents' common roots in the days of No Irish Need Apply in Boston, the fight for dignity in the treatment of the Great Unwashed by the entrenched powers that be, and the many, many campaigns that came later. My dad talked of staying up all night with the local wonks of the Democratic Committee tallying vote totals for Truman, and later, Jack Kennedy.
And my own words being (relatively) few at present, I can only fall back on some of the words of those who shared those experiences. My grandfather, who considered himself proud to be one of Roosevelt's "blue shirts," once wrote a poem about Billy Connery, his friend and the Congressman from Massachusetts' 6th District for whom he campaigned tirelessly. Connery was the co-author of one of the most important pieces of legislation that marked the New Deal reforms, although his name was later cut out when it was shortened to "The Wagner Act," or even just "Wagner." My Grampie's poem reflects the spirit of the time and the struggle for a new world that was the bedrock of the reform movements of the 20th century (the footnote is his). Though I suspect he would be dismayed to see how liberalism was eventually co-opted in large part to serve the interests of the already rich, I know he would be proud to apply these same words to Ted as we lay to rest perhaps the last great embodiment of these movements.
by Joseph Patrick William Jennings
Oh it wasn't the gleam in his eye that we loved
--though the gleam, it was there, to be sure
and it wasn't the sound of his voice that we felt
'twas the love that he bore for the poor
'Twas the love that he bore for the man with a tear
or the man with a heart that was torn
'Twas the care that he showed for the men that he knew
And the thousands yet unborn
At the end, though they placed him so cold in the earth
And the thing that was life now had fled
Still we knew that the soul that we felt since his birth
Could not ever itself be struck dead
He will linger through time in the men that he knew
And the people that yet are to be
For the things that he sought will forever be true
And will last till eternity
*Original co-author of the Connery-Wagner Labor Act, considered the "Magna Carta" of modern unionism. He served from Lynn, Massachusetts, through almost the entire Roosevelt terms.
Rest in peace, Senator Kennedy. May the road rise to greet you; may the wind be always at your back; the rain fall soft upon your fields; and until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand.
2009 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted with credit and link to http://danielpwelch.com. Writer, singer, linguist and activist Daniel Patrick Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The Greenhouse School (http://www.greenhouseschool.org). Translations of articles are available in over two dozen languages. Links to the website are appreciated. [Billy Connery 1971 by Joseph W. Jennings] Welch's tribute to another great lady, Patricia Jennings-Welch, available at http://danielpwelch.com