Page 4 of 4   <      

Ted Kennedy's 40-Year Search for Redemption

Senator John McCain reflects on the life of his friend and colleague, Edward Kennedy, and remembers Kennedy's ability to reach beyond party lines. Video by AP

It may be that Kennedy's own imperfections gave him a greater tolerance for the inevitability of imperfection, an appreciation for the gray areas and the necessity of baby steps when walking toward the promised land.

He always kept open the possibility of forgiveness for his opponents, perhaps because he so badly needed it himself.

Many of the people among the crowds of thousands gathered along the procession route Thursday in Massachusetts, and the tens of thousands more who lined up for hours to pay their respects at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, shared that view.

"Seems like because of the tragedies in his own life, he could relate to the tragedy in other people's lives," said Jill Grossberg, who was spending her 42nd anniversary in line with her husband at the library Thursday night. "Sometimes he was very unpopular, but he never wavered."

Her husband, Bernard, said Kennedy's own foibles gave hope to other people that they could transcend their own. "If he could get through everything he's gotten through in his life, it made it easier for other people to get through theirs."

Many in the crowd expressed an intimate appreciation for Ted the person rather than Ted the politician, or Ted the keeper of the Kennedy family flame. The tributes in Boston were for a single man, not a mystique.

"He took care of the sick and the poor," said the Rev. Jack Ahearn, onetime pastor of the parish where Kennedy was baptized. "He's done something for all of us at one time or another."

Kennedy, with his lifelong commitment to changing the world one life at a time, would probably have appreciated those sentiments.

In a now famous speech at Harvard, Kennedy spoke frankly about his need for redemption in the eyes of the country.

"I recognize my own shortcomings," he said. "I realize that I alone am responsible for them, and I am the one who must confront them. Unlike my brothers, I have been given the length of years and time. And as I have approached my 60th birthday, I am determined to give all that I have to advance the causes for which I have stood for almost a third of a century."

"It was really three yards and a cloud of dust with him," said his son Patrick.

Melody Miller, a longtime aide for Kennedy, summed it up this way: "He wasn't perfect, he'd be the first to tell you that. But he worked harder and tried harder than any man I have ever seen."

Bzdek is the author of "The Kennedy Legacy: Jack, Bobby and Ted and a Family Dream Fulfilled."

<             4

© 2009 The Washington Post Company