I didn’t catch onto Ted Kennedy while he was alive, not like I did his brothers Jack and Bobby. I admired President Kennedy, perhaps too much for his charm and charisma, and I certainly didn’t understand what the Bay of PIgs or the near-death experience of the Cuban missile crisis meant for our country. And I certainly didn’t absorb his assassination in 1963 until a few years later. Bobby Kennedy ran for the presidency in 1968 and I put my heart and soul into getting him elected. He too was gunned down–in Los Angeles in 1968. Only two months before Bobby’s assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed. I thought then that our country had lost its moral compass.
After reading Ted Kennedy’s memoir True Compass, I learned what an extraordinary person he was. In this memoir you get 532 pages of unvarnished truth, humility, intelligence, love, faith and ringing optimism from a man who, although an heir to wealth, served his country tirelessly, effectively, and humbly. I welcomed the Ted Kennedy I read about in these pages, and he broke into my heart. Here was a politician whose forty-seven year career in the United States Senate was dedicated to helping the impoverished, the bereft, and the marginalized.
Belonging as he did to a famous political family dynasty, Ted Kennedy could provoke prejudice against him, but when you read True Compass you will be surprised at how humble a man he was. He loved his country passionately. He served in the Senate with commitment, intelligence, and resilience. He was an ardent follower of the Catholic faith and believed God belonged to everyone. And he was a devoted son to his father Joe and his mother Rose. As the youngest of nine children, he bestowed upon his father and mother unstinting respect throughout their lives.
Ted Kennedy suffered tragedy in his life as well as deep grief after his brothers’ assassinations. After Bobby’s death he fought depression and found relief in sailing. He wrote (p 274): “I surrendered myself to the sea and the wind and the sun and the stars on these voyages. I let my mind drift, when it would, from my sorrows to a semblance of momentous joy I have always felt at the way a sailboat moves through water. I love sailing in the day, but there’s something special about sailing at night. And on these nights in particular, my grieving was subsumed into a sense of oneness with the sky and the sea. The darkness helped me to feel the movement of the boat, and the movement of the sea, and it helped displace the emptiness inside me with the awareness of direction.”
True Compass reveals what a truly remarkable man Ted Kennedy was, and I miss him now because he was a true compass for our country. He was at once a dignified and humble statesman, a friend, husband, father, and son.