It’s hard to imagine Rick Warren had Ted Kennedy in-mind when he wrote The Purpose Driven Life,* but judging by all that was said at Kennedy’s Saturday funeral, including President Obama’s beautiful remarks, Ted Kennedy’s life seems to have been a case-in-point.**
Of course, Saturday’s most poignant reading of Ted Kennedy’s life, as a man who persevered (in pursuit of good for others), was in Ted Kennedy Jr.’s remarks, regarding walking up a snowy hill.***
“And I was trying to get used to my new artificial leg. And the hill was covered with ice and snow. And it wasn’t easy for me to walk. And the hill was very slick. And as I struggled to walk, I slipped and I fell on the ice. And I started to cry and I said, ‘I can’t do this.’ I said, ‘I’ll never be able to climb up that hill.’
“And he lifted me up in his strong, gentle arms and said something I will never forget. He said, ‘I know you can do it. There is nothing that you can’t do. We’re going to climb that hill together, even if it takes us all day.’
“Sure enough, he held me around my waist and we slowly made it to the top. And you know, at age 12 losing your leg pretty much seems like the end of the world. But as I climbed on to his back and we flew down the hill that day, I knew he was right. I knew I was going to be OK.
“You see, my father taught me that even our most profound losses are survivable, and that is — it is what we do with that loss, our ability to transform it into a positive event, that is one of my father’s greatest lessons.”
But Ted Kennedy’s biggest lesson for me, albeit from his funeral, was this reminder: Ted Kennedy led a purpose-driven life—for the biggest purposes in life: eliminating racism, sexism, and all other forms of injustice.
Though I was raised in a solidly Democratic family (for example, as a 36-year-old with four young children, my father ran for Congress on the Democratic ticket, in an overwhelmingly Republican district), my parents viewed (and, I think, still view), the Kennedy’s with some disapproval.
The Mary Jo Kopechne tragedy left a very bad taste, and, combined with an incident we experienced–when a Democratic-Party rally came to a crashing halt while everyone searched for then-Senate-candidate Bobby Kennedy’s lost (gold) cuff link–I was raised to view the Kennedy’s with some disdain.
But, then, I got to Saturday’s funeral service, albeit via CNN.
Saturday morning’s lesson about perseverance–in pursuit of a purpose beyond oneself, and, yes, even beyond one’s family–is exactly the lesson my sometimes-Kennedy-disapproving parents taught every day, including, I’m sure, on the day that gold cuff link was lost, and on the day Mary Jo Kopechne died.
I’ve tried to take their lesson to-heart. Truthfully, some days, it’s hard, especially when it’s a day at the end-of August.
But, this end-of-August day, and whether you liked and admired Ted Kennedy, or not, take-to-heart his last lesson for his children and for the rest-of-us: the purpose-driven life matters.
I close with the words of Wordsworth (a favorite of my father), said by the President Saturday:
“As tempted more; more able to endure,
” As more exposed to suffering and distress;
“Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.”