Like many Americans, I was glued to the TV watching the rituals and ceremonies surrounding the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy. As my final show of respect, I waited for hours at the U.S. Capitol for the Kennedy family motorcade to stop for a final prayer and good-bye at the Senate steps before heading to Arlington National Cemetery. Having been born toward the end of the baby boomer cohort, I don't remember life without a Kennedy occupying the White House and/or the Senate. Senator Kennedy's legislative accomplishments are unmatched by any other legislator in U.S. history. Yet, what struck me most during those hours of remote control clicking was the consistency of stories told by various people, from his friends to his political opponents, from his staff to his grandchildren. These recollections varied in content, but the character traits of the man remained constant. Clearly, there was much to learn from this amazing man above and beyond the extraordinary ways he enhanced all Americans' lives through the passage of hundreds of progressive laws. These are my favorites.
Live large. Senator Kennedy lived a grand life, personally and professionally. His legislative accomplishments speak for themselves. People who knew him best, including colleagues on both sides of the aisle, lovingly retold stories of his booming way of being, literally and figuratively. He loved large, too, as told by various Kennedy generations. Likewise, his failings were equally pronounced. Lesson: Live out loud, grasping every moment and opportunity.
Live your faith. Senator Kennedy lived his Christian values of helping those most in need, giving a voice to the powerless. If you are elderly, disabled, female, in the military or a veteran, Latino, African American or another person of color, an immigrant, or voted at eighteen years of age, you can thank Senator Kennedy. His political courage was evident daily as he triumphed causes that would never bolster his campaign coffers. He was a deeply devout Catholic, and not just on Sundays. There is much to be learned from his seamlessly woven religious and public life. Lesson: Walk your talk.
Live respectfully. Over and over we heard his children and grandchildren speak to the great respect Senator Kennedy had for all people regardless of their place in society. Sure, he had access to the rich and powerful because he was that, too. However, he didn't respect the rich and powerful any more than he did the poor and socially invisible. His heart was big enough to include everyone who crossed his path. Lesson: Be respectful of everyone simply because they are fellow human beings.
Live for others. As a life coach, it may seem contradictory to advocate living your life for other people. It is not. In our either/or society, we have come to believe we must choose from a menu of options on how to focus our lives. The truth is you can select the "all of the above" option. Take good care of yourself AND take good care of others, too. Senator Kennedy became a father figure to his assassinated brothers' children, all of whom report that he never missed a christening, graduation, or any other major life event. If he found time in his schedule for his three children and thirteen nieces and nephews, then our excuses for not doing more for others pales in comparison. Lesson: It's not all about you.
Live with humor. Nothing is better for our souls than a hearty laugh, especially during moments when chuckling seems inappropriate or hard to muster. Apparently, Senator Kennedy had a great sense of humor and loved hearing and telling jokes. He used humor during tense negotiations with Senate colleagues as well as when sitting around the family dinner table. Nearly every speech given in his memory included at least one funny story about him; a few times I even wiped my eyes from laughing instead of crying. Lesson: Lighten up.
Live authentically. That the same themes emerged with every recollection, from his grandchildren to his political opponents, means there was one, consistent Edward Kennedy who did not change according to political winds or personal setbacks. He loved to sing but didn't have, shall we say, a pure voice. He loved to sail but knew others were better sailors. He was committed to basic human rights, including civil rights, women's rights, and healthcare rights, years before those issues became political movements. Whether you loved him or not, you knew who he was. Lesson: Be yourself.
Surely, there are many other lessons to glean from this larger-than-life but all-too-human man, but if we ascribe to the ones above, we would be better individually and as a society. We may not have known him personally, but there isn't a family in our country that has not been touched by his life's work. What a legacy.
Thank you, Teddy.