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In the end, all we can really do with another -- and for another -- is to commend each other to God. That is the conclusion I came to after watching most of Sen. Edward Kennedy’s funeral. I didn’t condone his often very public failings. I vehemently disagreed with his stances on abortion, gay marriage, embryonic stem cell research, as well as most of what Sen. Kennedy hoped to accomplish in terms of universal health care. I wasn’t anywhere near being on the same page with his idea of what the role of government is or should be. Frankly, I would be hard pressed to find an elected official more diametrically opposed to my own views.
Because of all that, I didn’t watch the wall to wall television coverage of all things Kennedy. But the tributes given at the Kennedy Library and the Mass of Christian Burial did more than just capture my attention. They led me to reflect on the fact that the only life any of us can live is our own. Our spouses, children, and parents sometimes make choices we wouldn’t make. Some, we may not even approve of. Still, they remain family members. No matter what, they belong to us; they are ours.
I haven’t voted for Ted Kennedy in a very long time. But the first vote I cast at 18 years of age was, in fact, for Kennedy in the 1980 Democratic primary. That was a few weeks after I took a day or two off from my freshman college studies and went up to Manchester to canvass and leaflet. I supported Ted Kennedy then because I respected a man who, though he didn’t have to work a day in his life, chose to do so. As the first person in my family to be able to attend college, that meant a great deal to me. Sure, at the time I was a very left of center, bordering-on-socialist, dyed in the wool Democrat. I believed that government could help people, and that big government could help even more people. Whoever the underdog was, I was on his side. Ted Kennedy was most definitely my kind of candidate.
I wasn’t Catholic then. Abortion wasn’t an issue for me. I figured that if I lived the way I was supposed to, it never would be. At the time, I couldn’t imagine ever voting for a Republican. In fact, I cried when Reagan was elected. But in the years between then and now, a few things changed quite dramatically. I grew up, became a Roman Catholic, and had the privilege of studying under one of the nation’s most brilliant conservative thinkers, Professor Harvey Mansfield. And aside from what I was experiencing, the Democratic Party kept embracing an increasingly radical social agenda. Somewhere along the line, they lost people like me. It took years, however, for me to actually register as a Republican. Every now and then, I still retreat to the refuge of the “unenrolled.”
I was born during the Kennedy presidency, and vividly remember Bobby’s death when I was in the first grade. For me, Ted Kennedy’s passing is yet another signal that the end of an era has come. It was a time that I am beginning to think of as “mine.” Because there was a general consensus on the core values that define us, people in both parties celebrated America as the greatest country on earth. They believed in the unique and awe-inspiring notion that a free people could govern themselves. Democrat and Republican alike, they aspired to do the impossible. They hungered for genuine greatness. What stretches out before me now seems frighteningly cold, dark, and unfamiliar. The strangest thing is that those who lead us now are just about my age.
Whatever I think about Sen. Kennedy as a politician or even as a person, to me, he is a brother Catholic. There are aspects of everyone’s life worth emulating. The truth is that I am a miserable sinner too. I can’t examine or analyze his life without starting with my own. But I can pray for the soul of Ted Kennedy, and will. I can pray for those to whom this nation has been entrusted as well, and should. A final commendation ought not to be the first time we place a person into the hands of God. As the Byzantine churches pray during the Divine Liturgy, “Let us commend ourselves, and one another, and our whole lives to Christ our God.” The response: “To you, O Lord.”
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.