To This Partisan Irish Catholic, More Change We Can Believe In
By Mary Lyon
Watching the pageantry accompanying the passing of Senator Ted Kennedy was striking, touching something way deeper in my heart than I expected.
Okay, full disclosure here - Irish Catholic, went to the schools, went to Mass, did the Missal thing, the Confession thing, the Rosary thing, learned the prayers and the hymns and when you stood up and when you sat down and when you genuflected. All my male Irish Catholic elders wound up looking pouchy and potato-like, with thick, full heads of white hair just like Teddy's. Their wakes were perhaps a little rowdier than his. I could identify with this. Even when my father veered off into Reaganism, it wasn't all "IGMFU" (I Got Mine and the other two initials tell you the rest). He still carried that same deep sense of obligation to remember where you came from, look after those less fortunate, and to stand up to racism and discrimination.
For several days now, I've been trying to put my finger on exactly what it is that has moved me so deeply about the end of this era in American politics and history. I never met Senator Kennedy. In my days as a reporter, I interviewed several of the members of the next generation of his illustrious family, but never anyone at his level. I was a little girl when I witnessed another even littler girl and her still littler brother frolic in that big mansion where the President lives. It was the first time I could even minimally identify with anything about Washington DC realities, long before I understood much about politics or any of its major national players. Everything before Ted's brother John and his family ascended was vaguely about the stewardship of benign elderly grandparents - never about anyone who reminded me of my parents or myself. Maybe that was it. The Kennedy family was loaded with vibrant young-ish adults who kind of looked like my mom and dad, and lots of kids only a little younger than I was. Something to latch onto.
As I grew, learned, observed conditions in my country that I did not like, and searched for ways to change and improve those conditions, I came to appreciate the mission of the Kennedy family. I learned that matriarch Rose Kennedy infused her babies' bottles with the moral nutritional supplement summed up by - "of those to whom much is given, much is expected." Translated to my own children's baby food decades later, that would become "much blessed, much obligated." No matter how many or how few words, the idea behind such slogans was always the same. You gave back. You helped someone who couldn?t help themselves. If you had more, you thus had more to share. If you were positioned such that you could afford to offer assistance, then you were morally bound to do so. Raised in Catholic schools, we studied The Beatitudes and the mission of Christ on earth. Nowhere did The Savior ever measure your worth based on your politics or your wealth or position or connections or your race, age, nationality, fitness, sexuality, religion or lack thereof. When a poor person asked Him for help, He never sneered back to stop mooching off the system and go get a job, and there was never a litmus test applied to gauge the merit of the querant. It always seemed to me that He meant for us to follow that example. Something else for which I came to appreciate the Kennedys.