In the aftermath of JFK’s assassination and funeral almost 50 years ago, a major newspaper headline captured what we all felt at the time: Johnny We Hardly Knew Ye.
When youngest brother Ted died at 87 just last week, on the other hand, we thought we knew him well. For decades we had watched him, written about him, analyzed him, criticized him, elected him, and in the latter years, we were proud of him. We didn’t really expect all that much of him in the beginning. He was the charming fuss-off. The one who, as a Harvard freshman, cheated and got himself expelled. He’d never be president, they said, and they were right.
Over the years, we watched him stumble big time. Chappaquiddick. Party boy. Lots of drinking and politicking. We assumed there were affairs. And when we watched him fall, we didn’t really expect him to get up again, did we?
He was pretty much historically and politically ubiquitous for as long as any of us can remember. He did step up from time to time. Heartfelt eulogies, one after another; interviews, political campaigns; victory speeches; Caroline’s wedding; court dates along side a troubled nephew. Jackie’s funeral. Not all that long ago, little John-John’s crash.
We kept watching. Somewhere along in there, he would recover, remarry, regroup, and move on. Almost imperceptibly, the ever thick and wavy hair grew silver, his weight stayed mostly up, and he became a Statesman. Civil rights, the poor, the least of these. Not president, no, but best Senator of all time, they said.
And when about a year ago we found out about his cancer, we mourned ahead of time. We forgave him, raised him up, gave him his due, thanked him, and said a proper, dignified goodbye. We thought.
How little did we know, as it all turned out. We grew new eyes to see. Cheers. Tears. A thousand and one secrets: Teddy, the Lion Hearted; Teddy, the Lover of Life; Teddy the Friend, the brother, the uncle, the dad. Teddy the spark and sparkler. Teddy the Enthusiast – of history, the sea, the sale, the race. Teddy the Tireless, the Healthcare King. A weekly literacy volunteer last year?
The image I will hold onto is the one of him kneeling all alone, frequently they said, before the statue of Our Lady of Perpetual Hope – in the big Boston basilica that eventually filled up for him.
I have made huge mistakes in my life, he said – or something to that effect – but I have worked hard to right my path.
In spite of all the privilege and pain, he made a good life happen, didn’t he? It is a thing of beauty to behold.
Bonnie Bell, with husband Jim Bell, CFP®, owns and manages Bell Investment Advisors, Inc., 1111 Broadway, Suite 1630, in downtown Oakland. The firm has been providing personalized financial planning, investment management and career and life planning services since 1991. www.bellinvest.com: 510-433-1066.
Published in Piedmont Post on September 9, 2009