Ted Kennedy: a bright light in the storm


It had been many hours since the military honor guard sounded the bugle, shot the volleys, folded the flag in triangles in the twilight and presented it to his widow. After all the poetic words of each eulogist, the enchanting gifts of each musician and the visible heartache of his loving and beloved extended family, I remained in deep thought.Here's why: during the second half of the burial service, as daylight dimmed over Arlington National Cemetery, bursts of lightning repeatedly flashed through the clouds in the darkening sky. Those flashes of light from behind the clouds, like a display of celestial fireworks, continued to distract my thoughts, long after the sky went pitch dark and the "celebration of life" came to its inevitable conclusion. Still I wondered: What was the symbolism of the lightning? Was Teddy's indomitable spirit bidding us goodbye, or was he struggling to stay with us just a wee bit longer? Was the lightning a message from the Other Side? Of course, there was no rational foundation for my thoughts, but my Southern roots often cause me to look for signs or signals from the heavens to explain the mysteries of this earthly life.There was no doubt in my mind that Ted Kennedy's life had been a good one, ending on the high side of the struggle for humanity. Was he trying to give one more speech to the American people? Make one more proclamation? Was his brilliant spirit flashing in the dark sky, reassuring us that he would be around to light the path of leadership, even in the dark and stormy days that may lie ahead? Or was it a final goodbye from this man who had fought through tragedy, pain and sorrow, in turn sharing his struggles with the nation's disabled and disadvantaged? I decided that the light show in the sky was a good sign: that good souls never leave us, as long as we continue to believe in our hearts that they can light the way toward a bright future.I thought about his widow, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, and the elegance and spirit she demonstrated in these very public moments. Like me, she is from Louisiana, so I imagined that she would get it, she would interpret the symbolism of the lightning display too, and she would comprehend his message, just as I was trying to do.Then, like a flash of lightning from somewhere in the somber recesses of my mind, a scene emerged, one I had forgotten for many years. I remembered a sunny time back in 1960, when a vigorous John F. Kennedy was running for President of the United States.As a young woman, I had joined a group of other idealistic, young envelope-stuffers as a volunteer in the candidate's campaign office on Market Street in San Francisco. In this particular instance, my friends and I rushed over from Berkeley in hopes of getting a good look at Kennedy's dashing younger brother, Teddy. Understand, this was not an easy thing to do, because he never seemed to be around the office when we were there. Then one day, he just walked right through the door, flashing his healthy, glowing good looks and brilliant, high-wattage smile. With a shock, I could remember the physical thrill of that moment. Our mission was accomplished! We now had bragging rights to return that night to Berkeley, impressing everyone we knew with the fact that we had actually met the magnificent Ted Kennedy. Fifty years have passed, yet all at once, I could remember that day as though it were unfolding before my very eyes.Finally, after hours spent thinking about the contrast between that dark burial scene and the shining vision of that handsome young man in the campaign office, I began to feel peace about his death. It's not that I had not seen or thought of Ted Kennedy over the years; quite the contrary. It's the fact that, just like those flashes in the sky, his brilliant young smile and ceaseless, electric energy still have the power to light the fire of my imagination.