As Senator Kennedy was finally laid to rest yesterday, the weight of his passing hit me much harder than I thought. I can feel the collective heartbreak of losing the last of our royal line. It is as if the round table has finally been broken, and all the knight's swords laid to rest. I am 42 years old, and Ted Kennedy was a state Senator longer than I have been alive. My generation has never known anything else but to live under the legacy of the Kennedy's 'American Camelot' influence. How do we pass this flame of public service to our children, and spark the next generation of leaders?I think Andy Ostroy said it best in his piece, featured on HuffPo earlier this week:
"Ted Kennedy's contribution to American culture and society can be seen in virtually every historic issue fought in modern American politics, including health care, social security and Medicare, minimum wages, education, immigration, aid for senior citizens, civil rights, voter's rights, women's rights, gay rights and human rights. And he accomplished all this as a gentleman and a respected bi-partisan leader, with civility, grace and humor. A larger-than-life Washington character. Sadly, there's no one to step in and fill his shoes....on either side of the aisle."
I was sobbing listening to Vice President Joe Biden give the best speech of his life remembering his old friend at the memorial service, held at the Kennedy library. He spoke of the countless times Teddy had been there for him, and for so many. Beyond his historic accomplishments, it was in the 'little things' that Senator Kennedy shined his humanity onto all who were in his giant wake and, "makes you want to be better than you are," as Biden said.
The grief floating around America this week has been palpable. We have spent a lifetime grieving again and again with the Kennedy family through the years of unending tragedies. Losing Eunice Kennedy Shriver earlier this month reminded us what a fiery feminist can do; and her gift of the Special Olympics is as a legacy beyond measure. When Maria Shriver spoke at her funeral a few weeks ago, she said her mother would have pounded her fist at the podium - asking what we did today to make the world a better place.
The tenacity, compassion and drive to champion the under privileged moves me to want to be a better citizen, and a better parent. All of the Kennedy siblings, and so many of their children, are working in public service. We may never see such a family again. They had their faults, their mistakes and their issues, just like the rest of us. But there is one thing they did not do: stop or give up.Senator Joseph Kennedy, Teddy's nephew, reflected on this determination at the memorial.
"He was telling me, never, ever, ever, ever give up. You stay in the race. And if people don't have health care, you stay in the race. If people don't have adequate housing, you stay in the race. If people aren't being treated properly you stay in the race," he said.
In contemplating the death of Eunice and Teddy, I asked my four kids this week, while driving to get school supplies, what we were doing as a family to make the world a better place. The six year old twins slurped their organic juice boxes and gave me a blank stare, while the older ones tossed it around. My 14 year-old son offered up, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country?" This seemed to be his attempt to show me the full scale of his Kennedy knowledge.
We finally decided the best way they can "give" to their country, is to develop their character. To try their best, to help someone out that needs it, and to be grateful for what we have. The new generation of children will never know the Kennedy influence. Who is their champion now? Who is going to dare us to be the first to fly to the moon? Who is going to stand up and pound their fist, roar like a lion, and make us want to be better? Where is our fire, our sense of competition, our collective conscience that serving the lesser among us is a right and a responsibility?
The answer for leadership is not just in Barack Obama, although he has the potential - it is in all of us. Everyone must do their part. The current first family is laying the foundations to inspire a new generation in big ways, as well as small ones. From planting an organic garden outside the White House, daring to touch the Queen of England, or encouraging American's to volunteer - the legacy or making a difference does not have to die.
On Memorial Day, the White House offered a call to service, and at the HuffPo, on the right hand side of this page, you can find links for the "All for Good" campaign. Check it out for opportunities to be in service within your zip code as a great way to get your kid's engaged.
Arianna Huffington wrote a fantastic piece earlier this week, reminding us that the national conversation about helping the least among us needs to remain the center of bipartisan attention.Right now, Kennedy's Health Care Bill is on the precipice, just like the Civil Rights Bill, when JFK was shot. Ted Kennedy introduced the first legislation for health care in 1969, when I was two years old. Let's get it done as a tribute to our favorite family, and revitalize our momentum as a country. Teddy said,
Let's all work together to make sure it does. Hey HuffPo readers- how do you see the Kennedy legacy impacting our next generation of leaders? Love to hear your comments.
"the dream lives on."
Follow Kari Henley on Twitter: www.twitter.com/karihenley