I am out of tears. I spent Saturday, like much of the rest of the nation, attending as best I could, senator Edward Kennedy's funeral service. It was a beautiful and moving service, and though I thought I'd watch for while and then go do other things, I spent the entire day saying goodbye to the senator and musing on his life and the direction the country has taken over the years.
We knew this death was coming, but yet I found it was amazingly instructive in so many ways. The number and severity of the tragedies both the family and the senator have had to face is staggering. How they chose to respond to these events is both human and inspiring. The sheer level of perseverance and hard work Ted Kennedy exhibited is every bit as inspiring as the tenacity with which he held to his principles.
The occasion provided the usual insight into the diversity of human nature. People can be so wonderful and also so hateful, petty and small. There was ample evidence of both tendencies on display. I read unbelievably callous rants by some people, bitching, moaning and whining and generally showing why natural selection is a great idea. People may think what they may, of course, but there was a time when common decency would have dictated a far less nasty public response than some of what I read—at least until after the funeral. But no, not today.
I channel surfed for a time and then settled on MSNBC because I can usually listen to the commentators there without wanting to retch. The gentle goodness of Andrea Mitchell was welcome as mourners left the church. I have always been amazed at how good broadcast journalists can report what is happening with virtually always an objective and even tone. That is what they are trained to do, after all. Saturday, however, I heard real emotion from Matthews, Olbermann and Robinson. They hid it well until the light faded at Arlington, the bugler played taps, and the grandchild's voice broke with frustration. Olbermann was particularly poetic and managed commentary as a storm came quickly in at the close of the ceremony.
The day before I received renewed confirmation of how unbelievably happy I am that John McCain is not our president. He was clearly ill at ease on both days, and I wondered if he actually wanted to attend. The arrogance of John McCain at the memorial, rushing down from the podium, ignoring Vicky Kennedy and refusing to shake her hand was, sadly, not unexpected. The nation really dodged a bullet on Election Day.
The images were amazing as well. The former presidents and first ladies chatting in the church, the deeply felt tribute by the so many of the senator's current and former staff on the steps of the capital with senator Byrd in a wheelchair and many other members of congress in attendance.
The people of Massachusetts lining the route from the cape to the library, and the path from the church to Arlington National Cemetery, crying, waving, showing respect for the senator and love and support for his family. Love was clearly on display. The love of the family. The love of his colleagues. The love of the nation.
When did we take the turn that led us to this current state of affairs? Was it the assassination of John Kennedy? Bobby? Martin? When did we start to simply kill the people we disagree with? When did our discourse become so vitriolic? Is this a kind of karmic justice for past wrongs? Is this the way this grand experiment will end—eaten from within by polarized crowds shouting at each other, by threats and intimidation, by the implied violence of the holstered gun or the actual violence of the gun unseen?
In Ted Kennedy, we had a visible personification of how government and discourse in the public arena could be, and actually was, once upon a time. That method and those values are neither obsolete nor out of date, they are simply out of favor and we are out of practice. We had to bury Edward M. Kennedy. In the end, we had to let him go. We do not have to bury civility or courtesy. We do not have to bury honesty or reasoned debate. We do not have to bury shared responsibility or shared sacrifice. Perhaps the real threat to our nation and it's dreams stares back at us from the mirror.