09/29/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ted Kennedy: Story of Redemption, a Story to Remind Us Not to Give up on Others

No offense to Bill Maher and the irreligious, but Senator Ted Kennedy was a man of faith and as such I do not think he would smirk at the use of a Bible tale to help frame his life. I'm thinking here of Peter's denial of Christ, John 18:15-18, 25-2. After Jesus' arrest, his disciple Peter is approached by the authorities and in fear for his life, denies Jesus three times. Such a failure would have been enough to drive most people to despair, but unlike Judas, Peter does not take his life, nor does he give up on himself. Instead he becomes the Rock of the Church. Peter was given a second chance and made good on it. So did the senator from Massachusetts

In 1969, Senator Kennedy was involved in a scandal that would have drowned almost anyone else. At about 11:15 on July 18th, a perhaps intoxicated Kennedy drove his car off of a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts. While he was able to escape, Mary Joe Kopechne, who was in the back seat, drowned. Though some claimed that Ms Kopechne might have been saved if Mr. Kennedy had immediately called for help, Kennedy did not even report the accident until the next morning. There were inquests and manslaughter charges considered, but the senator received only a slap on the wrist for leaving the scene of an accident in which an injury was involved. Kennedy's license was revoked and the judge hammered him with a two-month jail sentence- promptly suspended.

A person lower on the power scale would have ended up in prison and probably would have been ruined in other ways. There has always been a part of me that resents the unequal treatment that the Kennedys and other trust fund babies receive in life and before the supposedly blind law. Nevertheless, Mr. Kennedy, who showed nothing but pusillanimity in this incident, matured into a knight for the cause of the disenfranchised. That, in large part, is why his life is considered a story of redemption, but let's draws out the pith of that story a little more.

We, Americans are inclined to be punitive. We glow to the rhetoric of responsibility. Many warm to the idea of three strikes and you no longer exist for us. However, if that kind of thinking had been applied to Senator Kennedy, we would have deprived ourselves of one of the greatest legislators of our time. Kennedy's life and death are, of course, a trumpet call to service but at the risk of ringing preachy, his loss should also give us pause about giving up on other people, even if they do not have a name like Kennedy.

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