Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Thoughts, Not Necessarily Logical, about Ted Kennedy

Tired to the point of crankiness with those who wrote of where they were and what they were doing on, say, 9/11, or when the U.S. invaded Iraq, or similar events, you were prompted by Joe Biden's eulogy of Ted Kennedy to consider your own abject sense of grief, recalling first the news of his diagnosis, and now the news of his death.

The sad loss reminds you to stipulate how much a part of the human condition it is to note where you were and what you were doing when X happened, sometimes even an X such as the recent death of Michael Jackson, that has such a creepy and negative connotation for you.

We do tend to memorialize our grief as well as our exultations.

There is a telephone pole at the southwest corner of East Valley Road (California State rte 192) and Ortega Ridge Road, to which are tacked various identity medallions, but also a small cross which would seem to be in violation of church and state separation but which is a spontaneous memorial, emblematic of my theme.  Some ten years ago, a young woman, driving a vehicle, along with her infant daughter, were killed in a collision at that site.  It is not a well-traveled site, being a two-lane road in each case.  I read of the accident and began to notice the kind of roadside shrine so popular these days:  heaps of cut flowers, the occasional condolence card, sometimes teddy bears or other stuffed animals, even the tall, multi-colored glass containers for votive candles so frequently associated with Latin devotees of the Christian faith.  I even saw within the week directly following the accident a woman with whom I had been romantically involved, adding a flower to the impromptu shrine.  When I next saw her and asked, she told me she had not known the victim but had been somehow touched by her loss.  Although not a Catholic, she nevertheless caused some measure of curious consternation by leaving red flowers at the statue of the Blessed Virgin in the courtyard of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, at the corner of Hot Springs and East Valley Roads.  The red flower in the Hindu culture is associated with the Shakti or Mother of the Universe concept in some sects of Hinduism, thus to me at least, the offering of a red flower to a mother figure is no mystery at all.

Sometimes, when the climate of my sentiments is properly alligned, I get a tall latte to go and visit a memorial site further north north west on Mountain Drive, an unmarket site, known only to me; it is the resting place of Mr. Edward Bear, a blue-tick hound much beloved by me.  Sitting there, drinking coffee, I am reminded of a particular night when he came to USC with me to teach, then apparently took off with a group of other dogs.  It was a cold, foggy night.  After a desultory dinner, I drove back to campus for one last shot at finding him, did not, and moodily drove along Vermont Avenue toward Olympic, at which point it was my plan to turn west toward my parents' home and a brief nap before returning to campus once again for another look.  Driving slowly along Vermont, I began to believe I was aurally hallucinating the thunderous and magnificent bawl of a blue-tick hound, but the bawl persisted beyond my skepticism.  Looking out the driver-side window, I saw Edward, keeping pace with me, acknowledging his wish to be let in the car.  Edward was my companion before Molly, before Nell, before Sally.  Each of these dogs is a special memory and presence; it is no wonder I think of Edward and what he has brought into my life.  Drinking my take-out latte, I think of another time when, having moved to Santa Barbara, I nevertheless had occasion to drive south to the Mulholland turnoffi of the 101 southbound, where he waited for me, impatient for his breakfast.

The closest I have ever come to meeting Edward Kennedy in person takes me back to a time when he had been campaigning for his brother John in the North Beach section of San Francisco, which was festooned with signs welcoming Teddy Kennedy to SF, and which, a day after Ted Kennedy's appearance, had not been removed.  I felt his presence even though he'd long since departed.  Until last night, when ENK called to tell me of his death, whenever I thought of him, I thought of that place and those signs.  The term lion is often used to describe him, just as often by his political foes as by his friends and allies.

In the past few months, it seems to me I have been bombarded by requests from Democratic senators asking for money, the notable exception being Senator Kerry, who merely wanted me to sign a petition or call my attention to some impending legislation.  While Ted Kennedy lived, I ranked him as # 1 of all the U.S. Senators, aforesaid Senator Kerry #2, and Senator Boxer # 3.  Not too long ago, when Senator Boxer wrote to ask me to supply financial support for her pal, Mary Landreau, who is apparently facing a tough reelection fight in Louisiana, I told Senator Boxer she had to be kidding if she thought I'd support Senator Landreau who, it seemed to me, voted for many of the things Senator Boxer was against.  The answer came back, informing me that I did not grasp the concept of collegiality in politics.  Indeed, I was told, Senator Hatch and Senator Kennedy were bosom buddies, and I was shown a film clip of Senator McCain referring to Ted Kennedy as the last of the great lions.

For some considerable time, Ted Kennedy lived in the shadown world of being a kid brother to first Joe, then Jack, then Bobby, but for this outsider, this non-constituent, he emerged through his caring, his sometimes orotund-but-never-inconsequential oratory as a man who cared with an unfettered passion.  To those who did not and do not care for him, it was an easy thing to bring forth the elephant in the living room of Chappaquiddick and Mary Jo Kopeckne, thus to minimize the incredible effect of the man.  It will not be minimized, and those who seek to trivialize him are merely adding to the trivial nature of their own presence.

Ted Kennedy was my Senator and shall remain my standard for judging the words, works, and stature of those who set foot on the Senate floor and request permission to speak.