Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Auras of Power

So I learned a minute ago that Ted Kennedy died last night of his cancer. I know something about the vigil of a family, the death rattle, the astonishing, holy quiet that fills the room when the body no longer breathes but the warmth of life has not yet cooled on the forehead. The fingertips blue, the face relaxed, and a sense of awe and wonder for those alive to sense it. Alas for the end of life. Alas for the loss of having any more tomorrows to plan and look forward to. Alas for entering the time when we hope the end of tomorrows comes quickly.

I think Ted Kennedy sensed the special mantle of leadership that is available to those who rise, either by force of personality or by station in life. Ted Kennedy, I think, had both of those things. He was infused with the aura of his family name and the people's sense of hope that stuck to the family name despite the human failings of individuals. He was blessed with a strong constitution, such that early in his career when he suffered a broken back in an airplane crash, he came back from it and rose above any further mention of it.

He became a champion of things his family was expected to champion, either because he personally believed in them or because he needed to appear to champion them in order to retain the devotion of the followers. There is a border zone in the human spirit between truth and pretense, or truth and feigning, in which the thing we feign one day becomes the truth of us by and by, either because we have come to believe in it, or because we have "incorporated" it, made it a part of our body and soul and identity. I'm saying that Ted Kennedy was born into a societal role and he filled that role splendidly all of his life. A former age would have termed his "performance" the Obligation of the Noblility, Noblesse Oblige.

I'm not suggesting that he was posing as "the good man." I'm suggesting that in his public life he passionately advocated what the populace hopes those of noble spirit will advocate. In his public life he upheld our hopes, those of us who wanted leadership like his or hoped for better social conditions in the ways he did.

I used to receive hate mailings at my office from a source in southwest Missouri who absolutely did not want America to have leadership like his. For that faction, Kennedy's name was synonymous with the sure destruction of the American Way.

Mourn with me, then, also, the blue finger tips of the girl Mary Jo, trapped in a small pocket of air in the sunken car that Ted Kennedy somehow escaped as it sank into a pond after he drove off a short, low bridge in 1969. He later said she had asked for a ride back to the hotel. She had told none of her five co-workers at the party that she was leaving. Her purse and hotel room key were still at the party.

Mourn the people who are caught up in the auras of power and personality and who are consumed.

In the paper today I read about two bright hopes of Missouri politics who played dirty in the 2004 election, lied about it to investigators, and who will now do jail time, not for playing dirty, but for lying about it.

Back in August of 1969, the month I finished graduate school and began my teaching career, the month of Woodstock, the month after Mary Jo went for late-night ride with Ted Kennedy, our society was in a time of transition from hushing up the misdeeds of our nobility to gleefully exposing them thirty years later during the humiliation of the Clinton household. I have wondered this morning if a situation parallel to the last ride of Mary Jo Kopechne could possibly result in only the brief suspension of a driver's license were it to happen today.

I mourn the loss of Ted Kennedy, and his failures of spirit and judgment, and of the damages that occur inside those auras of power.

1 comment:

Robbie F. said...

Very thought-provoking. I was moved by the 3 Alases in paragraph 1.