Joe died young fighting in WWII; Jack and Bobby were assassinated in each of their life's prime by the right-wing, neo-Fascist madness that continues to poison this country; Ted died last night at the age of 77 after a lengthy fight against brain cancer.
I heard the news of his death early this morning as I was driving my 5-year-old daughter Molly to her kindergarten class. She was belted into the seat behind me looking at the illustrations in "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" or, as she insists, "reading" her current favorite book.
The sun was pouring bright morning light over the country roads that take us into the nearby town where Molly goes to class when I tuned in to CNN on Sirius radio. Wolf Blitzer was talking with correspondent Dana Bash about Senator Kennedy's passing at 11:30 last night. My first reaction was a profound sadness -- and a rush of hot tears that momentarily refracted the sunlight into blurry flashes of gold and yellow against the still shadowed macadam road.
And that surprised me. Why this reaction? Why the tears? I don't know. I was not hearing of the death of a friend or a family member. While Ted Kennedy's journey certainly was embedded in my consciousness, a person who traveled with me as a part of my own life's experiences, he was always removed, like the central character in a novel that one reads and then reads again. Perhaps the announcement was simply another reminder of the scope of the tragedy that has been the Kennedy Family -- a monumental Shakespearean tragedy, far beyond what any family should be fated to endure.
Or maybe it was yet another notice -- and they seem to be arriving daily -- of my own mortality, my own profound insignificance; the accelerating passage of time that demands attention, finally, in every person's life. The insistent awareness that the river flows more rapidly the further it travels toward its ultimate destination.
Maybe it was neither of these. Maybe it was simply the juxtaposition of CNN's reporting of his death and the presence of my daughter reading her book in the seat behind me as we drove through the early morning sunshine to her second day of kindergarten.