I’m struck by how very sad I am at the passing of Ted Kennedy. Surely we all saw this coming. Brain cancer at the age of 77 is not exactly something that you bounce back from. It’s cancer. In your brain. It’s just not a smiley prognosis.
Yet I am overwhelmingly sad watching the wall to wall coverage on television.
I looked up the definition of “legacy,” the word that the talking heads on my TV box keep throwing around. Legacy – Something handed down from an ancestor or a predecessor or from the past. I think it is this very word, “legacy,” that makes me so very sad. I fear that I’m not ready to inherit it yet.
To me, the passing of Ted Kennedy means the passing of my parents’ time. Theirs is a world I cannot even begin to understand. My parents watched the Vietnam war on televison, and my mother would quiver with sadness remembering the time she saw a live report in which a young American GI, cradled in the arms of one of his fellow soldiers, cried out, “Mom!” and died. My mother herself was holding a newborn baby girl, my sister Carrie, when President Kennedy was killed. Five years later, my mother cradled another new born, Laura, just two days old, when she was given the news that Robert F. Kennedy had also been assassinated. The Kennedy family could have been classmates of my parents. If Ted Kennedy experienced it, my parents experienced it. The death of his brothers, the war in Vietnam, civil rights, Nixon, Ford, Carter, hostages, arms, Reaganomics, AIDS, the 70’s, the 80’s, the cold war, the Berlin Wall. Their lives and experiences eventualy overlapped with mine, but my parents saw it from a different perspective. My parents, though removed by miles and social status and money and political ambition, KNEW what Ted Kennedy knew. It was their time.
Now, it’s my time.
I am 35 years old. Those of us at this age who have been paying any attention (and by that I mean, the non-Katy Abrams of the world) first got a fire in our belly in 1992. Love him or hate him, Bill Clinton made us think. But it wasn’t until this year, this president, this new administration, when we started to really inherit the country. It is NOW that we identify with the president, because he’s our age. He’s our type. He’s what we know as America. He’s familiar to us on a personal level. For better or worse (and to me, I beleive, for better), Barack Obama is our first glimpse at what it was like for our parents to identify with the Kennedys. And I’m excited. But I’m also sad. Because I don’t want my parents time to be done yet.
Yes, I’m 35. I am married and I own a home and have two children and have been on my own for quite some time. But still, I crave my parents’ counsel. I crave their approval. I hesitate to make big decisions without first thinking, “I wonder what Mom and Dad would think?” And now it’s time for their generation to hand the reigns to mine, and I am afraid to take them. They had ups and downs and made huge mistakes, but I think they did a good job overall. My generation seems capable of pushing forward, yet, I don’t want to mess up all their hard work. They did exactly what they were supposed to do — they prepped the world for us. Now it’s our turn. And I don’t know about anyone else, but that scares the bejeebies out of me.
My parents are happy and healthy, and I don’t necessarily expect them to leave this world any time soon. But with the passing of Ted Kennedy, it’s clear that it’s time for Mom and Dad to enjoy themselves, while me and my fellow Generation X’ers take on their legacy.
I hope we do right by you, Mom and Dad. And thanks for getting us there, Senator Kennedy.