09/27/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Ted Kennedy: Remembrances from an 'Old Hand'

Strange as it seems, the best description of Senator Kennedy may have been offered by another Teddy -- Roosevelt -- more than two decades before Kennedy's birth. In a famous 1910 speech, Roosevelt dismissed the critics and the cynics of his time. He sung the praises of "the man who is actually in the arena,"

"... Who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."

Senator Kennedy thrived in the arena. He fought passionately and vigorously to improve the lives of all Americans, to lift the burdens of those he described as "the left out and the left behind," and to realize the Constitution's great promise of equal justice for all. He fought without cynicism, without bitterness, and with a spirit of joy and lightheartedness that was a wonder to behold.

There are so many memories at a time like this, of acts of kindness large and small. Let me share two.

One was from the 1994 campaign. At an event at Brandeis University, Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet refusenik, talked about the dark days when he had been under house arrest in Moscow in the 1970s. He described how his hopes had soared when word had reached him that Senator Kennedy wanted to visit him during a trip to the U.S.S.R., and how the KGB dashed those hopes when it refused to permit the Senator to make the visit. And then Sharansky described a knock at his door in the middle of the night -- Senator Kennedy had shaken his Soviet "hosts" and appeared miraculously at the refusenik's door. Sharansky's eyes filled with tears (as did Kennedy's) as he recounted how Kennedy had spent a night and day with Sharansky and other refuseniks, lighting the night with optimism at a time of despair. Overwhelmed by the moment, Kennedy quoted from memory Oliver Wendell Holmes' 1884 speech, "[t]hrough our great good fortune, in our youth our hearts were touched with fire."

The second came not in a moment of victory, but in a moment of defeat. The Senator had called on me and some other "old hands" to assist him in preparing for the nomination hearings for Judge Samuel Alito. Despite the Senator's vigorous opposition, the nomination had been confirmed. A few days later, an invitation arrived for a "thank you" party at the beautiful home that he and Vicki shared in Washington. I felt a bit uneasy as I arrived, as the sting of defeat had not disappeared. To my surprise, the Senator and Vicki had hired an old-fashioned rock and roll band, and old hands and staffers rolled up the carpets and the Senator danced and laughed and told stories for many hours. There was no bitterness, no looking back in anger, just a joyful spirit getting ready to fight the next great battle. That was the man whose life we celebrate and whose passing leaves a hole in our hearts and in our lives.

Somewhere in Heaven, one Teddy is welcoming another.