Monday, August 31, 2009

Senator Ted Kennedy at Peace in Mission Hill

Ted Kennedy's funeral this past weekend was held at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston.

Mission Hill is not exactly the Hyannis of Boston. There are certainly far more esteemed locations throughout the city. Don't get my wrong, I love Mission Hill and almost bought a place there last year (and still hope to live there some day). It is a close-nit and diverse neighborhood. It includes families, young professionals, college students attending Northeastern, medical interns that work at nearby hospitals... even a politician or two.

Mission Hill residents don't claim to be particularly distinguished, and don't want to be.

In all respects, it would not be the location one would expect for a visit by all the living Presidents save one and numerous other elected officials. But it was a perfectly fitting spot to pay final respects to this particular Senator.

As we review the Senator's accomplishments in the immediate hours after his death, what is repeated so often is how "Teddy" devoted his life to those most often forgotten. Not just the sick and poor. But also the parents who need extended leave from work to take care of a relative and worry they will get fired in the process. The mentally ill who are often treated more like outcasts and less like those that can be cured. Young children born to working families who benefit from the early tutelage provided by Head Start. The millions and millions of individuals who do not have adequate healthcare, even though they are citizens of the richest country on the planet.

We've heard the stories of these people Kennedy touched. They talk about receiving calls from him after losing relatives, how he simply would say, "This is Teddy." They talk about the graciously kind individual that Senator Kennedy was. They talk about how they called his office, even if they lived in Kansas or Texas, simply because he was the only Senator they knew.

I only learned after his passing that Senator Kennedy went to the Basilica on several occasions to prey. He was there when his daughter was battling lung cancer. I read this week that it was one of his first stops after receiving his brain tumor diagnosis last summer.

It should not be a surprise to anyone that he felt comfortable there. The Mission Church, as it's called by the locals, is surrounded by the types of people Senator Kennedy sought to help each and every day.

I have taken a bit of time during the past few days to reflect on my own personal connection to Senator Kennedy. I met him a few times. I slapped him high-five when he spoke at a rally in 2006. I developed a deep respect for him over the past nine years, as my politics shifted during the Bush II years. I admired his determination for public service, which we need now in a time when our public servants are often derided. While not a perfect person, Senator Kennedy was perfect in that he stood for the very best of government. He believed the government could and should do good.

This past Saturday, Senator Kennedy's funeral took place in a Catholic church within an exceptionally catholic section of Boston. To me, there was no better place for that service to be.

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