Kennedy's hard road & the privilege of prayer

AP photo of Sen. Kennedy surrounded by (counterclockwise) Ted Kennedy, Jr., stepson Curran Raclin, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, Daughter Kara Kennedy

The emails about Ted Kennedy’s illness have been interesting – I had a note from a gentleman living though his own hell of cancer and wondering why blogs and the press immediately took to focusing on the political ramifications of this news. I understood his meaning, but it is impossible to write about a Kennedy, especially in this election year, without immediately thinking “national politics” – this is probably a sort of blessing and curse of being a Kennedy. People immediately associate you with power, and consider your humanity secondly.

There have been emails from people who really dislike the Kennedy’s, but still say, “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” and others who have a rather neutral feeling about him that communicates like a helpless shrug. I have not had a single email containing the sort of vile nonsense we see, sometimes, on the internets, where news of illness can be greeted with gleeful condemnation and celebration. I’m sure that’s out there, somewhere, but I have not seen it, and it’s not the sort of thing I’d go looking for.

One woman wrote, movingly, that she had made fun of Kennedy mistakingly calling Barack Obama “Osama”. She’d thought it was simply a funny gaffe worthy of a derisive chortle, but now she notes, “perhaps he was already enduring the effects of the tumor on his brain.” Realizing that such might indeed be the case, the gaffe is no longer amusing to her.

We all occasionally find things to mock in others, bloggers and blog-readers tend to have their pet words and snickers, and their pet rocks to throw, whether it be “Osama/Obama” or “Jorge Arbusto” or whatever. And then sometimes a thing happens, and the rocks we’ve thrown seem less like harmless entertainment in a world of virtual bombast, and more like petty nastiness – and the blogosphere can sometimes be profoundly petty and nasty. We all take our turns being less than we can be.

I’ve read a few messages from people who, while wishing Kennedy no evil, also cannot find it within themselves to pray for him. Actually a lot of people are struggling with that, for various reasons. A friend confessed to me that her dithering about praying for Kennedy has forced some introspection – the good old Catholic notion of “examining the conscience” forced her to look at where she was lacking. But of course, taking the time to make that examination, and to locate her fault, helped her to move past it and to find herself both willing and able to pray for Kennedy and for his family. It is funny how locating our own beams make it easier to look past other’s splinters.

We have a responsibility to do that – to examine our consciences – to look at ourselves, every day, and see where we’re screwing up. And all of us screw up and fall short. We are accountable to God, and to each other and to ourselves. Accountability is both a bitch and a blessing.

I admit, while it was easy to feel compassion and sadness for Ted Kennedy’s children and his niece, Caroline, I was in a rather neutral place of helpless shrugs, myself. My first prayers for Kennedy were not all they could have been. I’m too aware of my own darker days to have wasted time determining whether or not he “deserved” prayers. We all do and we all need them from each other. But there was another part of me that thought of all the ways we Catholics have had to endure taunts because of the way Kennedy hijinks or scandals have commingled with the family’s public expressions of their faith, and boy…it got hard. Because when they hurt themselves and others, they hurt us, too.

But then I thought – how awful it must be to live out all of your mistakes and sins in public – to go through life with people presuming to know the state of your mind and soul, when all of our minds and souls are sometimes quite mucked up? Some might say it takes a sort of arrogance to do that…but it might take a certain sort of humility, as well.

I don’t know. All I know is that when Michel Montaigne wrote “There is no man so good, who, were he to submit all his thoughts to the laws, would not deserve hanging ten times in his life,” he was writing about me, too, and I’ve certainly done my share, in my sphere, to commingle hijinks and scandals with my public expressions of faith – even here in the blog.

I could minimize it by saying “we all do it,” because we do. But that doesn’t really excuse me, does it? Each day I must try to do better. Each day, I fall short. It’s why often, when I am puzzling it all out, I find myself saying the Confiteor – if I’m alone, I figure the Communion of Saints counts – “for all I have done, for all I have failed to do.”

Sin, grace and mercy are all mysteries to me. But knowing all I know about myself, and looking at it, it becomes much easier to look at the man, whose whole life has been a hard road (I wouldn’t want his privileges for anything; they don’t seem to have been worth it) and to look at his family – with whom he is about to undergo a terrible crucible – and I feel privileged that I can, in my own sinfulness, pray for them. I’m grateful that I can pray at all.

UPDATED: Julie at Happy Catholic has a really splendid piece enlarging on this and bringing so much more to it than I could manage. IT is awesome and wise (and I almost never call anything awesome) go read it!

Bruce encounters a compassionate type who wishes Bush were terminal instead of Kennedy.

At my son’s Cub Scout Pack meeting, one of the Den leaders, a dentist in his 40’s, came up to me, out of the blue, and said – expecting agreement, perhaps, because we’re two of the only 3 Jews in the 60+ member Pack and almost all Jews are liberals – “I wish Bush were terminal instead of Kennedy,” and then launched into an expletive-loaded diatribe about Bush being a murderer for taking the US into Iraq. I just made a “T” with my hands, time out sign, and walked away.
I was angry last night. Angry that such vitriol had touched me, my life, my son’s environment. I’m slow to anger, and quick to forgive – though not forget. Whether in public or private action, I try not to react but to act on principles, including sticking to civil discussion. So, that dentist may take my “T” as my having nothing to say or rebut.

He would be mistaken. As, I believe many like him in 2008 will be shocked as in 1968, 1972, 1980, 2004, that there is a silent majority of Americans who quietly and sanely consider and decide they don’t want to be ruled by vitriol and hate, nor our sacrifices and honor tarred by those who disdain personal integrity and hard works.

I hope we have not reached the point where we cannot assume common civility and humanity in our daily discourses.

Michael Long at NRO has has more thoughts in a good read.

Cal said a great lesson came quick: Don’t pick your friends by their politics.

He didn’t say they agreed on much, but he said that it didn’t matter. I know why. And it’s not just about Senator Kennedy. It’s about the soul-crushing inability of many to separate the personal from the political.

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  • jrprimm

    Anchoress, once again you are showing that you have the kernel of being Christian…my first thought was of how Ted’s sins showed on his face all of his life; how perhaps he never had a chance to have a ‘normal’ life being in that family; and how his second wife probably gave him the will to live another twenty years…yes, I do not wish that kind of hell on anyone…and it gives him a chance…IF he will take it…to expiate some of his sins in this body…Let us all pray that he does choose life.

  • ejhill1925

    It certainly is a contrast to the vitriol that was poured upon Ronald Reagan when it was learned he had Alzheimer’s…

  • singleton

    I have seen many one the right saying all of the different things you relate from your email, but none have been really evil. Just think what the nutroots on the left would say if this happened to a conservative

  • Viola Jaynes

    I so agree with you on this, Anchoress. Unfortunately, I have seen some comments about Kennedy that I find extremely tasteless considering what he he going through right now. There are some out there that enjoy kicking someone that is already down. It is so base and really sad. We all have sinned…and it is only by the grace of God that anyone of us can stand. Thank you for your good example and your wise words.

  • KrisinNewEngland

    …how awful it must be to live out all of your mistakes and sins in public…

    I would agree, if it wasn’t his choice to do this. Teddy opted for a life of public service; he didn’t have to be a Senator.

    I wish no ill on the man, but I will not lionize him with the stain on his past – Mary Jo Kopechne deserved better than he gave her. He never took responsibility for what he did and indeed, has led a life of privilege.

    Teddy will face his own judgment when he leaves this earth; I don’t stand in judgement of him – I would never do that.

    I sympathize with his family; my own dad died of cancer and it’s a horrible, powerless feeling. I can pray for them to have the strength to endure it. But I cannot pray for a man who left someone to die, and never faced the consequences in life.

    He will have to in death, but that will be cold comfort to the Kopechne family I’m sure.

  • ejhill1925

    Actually I should have said, “Still pouring out upon Ronald Reagan…”

    From the May 14 episode of Boston Legal:

    ALAN SHORE: Do they(the RNC) know you have mad cow?

    DENNY CRANE: They’re looking for the next Ronald Reagan, and he had it at the very end.

    Kathy Shaidle posted a picture of Mary Jo Kopechne’s grave on the day the Senator was rushed to the hospital. Poor taste to point out that when HE needed help it was given and when SHE needed help… ? And throughout his career he has been championed as a “real friend” of women’s rights. He has had an active hand in the deaths of both the born and unborn innocents. It is SO hard to disassociate Mr. Kennedy and his friends from their political sins.

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  • Beth

    Here’s a good reason to pray, for those who are struggling with it: pray that there is a way to successfully treat the disease. If it can help him, it can help others as well. So pray for successful treatment and recovery, so others can reap the benefits along with him.

    I’ve never been able to write anything about him without a postscript of “Mary Jo Kopechne could not be reached for comment,” but that’s totally separate from this, and looking at it from the perspective of another cancer patient with the same disease might make it clearer.

    Also, pray that he and the Kennedy family find strength in their faith. That’s good for everyone! :)

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