Senator Edward M. Kennedy, dead at 77 -- and thank goodness for that.
Thank goodness for the "at 77," that is. Not to say that "at 78" wouldn't have been even better. Or "at 79." "At 80" would have been miraculous. But losing Ted Kennedy at 77? It's hard to feel cheated.
None of his three brothers -- his three older brothers -- made it to 70. Or 60. Or even 50.
Who'd have predicted that the last of the boys would be the only one to receive the gift of years? Or that he'd put those years to such extraordinary use?
Or that he'd find, in the autumn of those years, a peace and a balance that had eluded him -- or that he had eluded, had disdained, with such awful consequence -- in his own life for so long?
Perhaps it was the late-arriving maturity of the baby of the family.
Perhaps it was a new marriage, and a second chance to get important things right.
Perhaps it was the simple passage of time.
Or perhaps it dawned on him at some point that they weren't coming after him. Not anymore, anyhow.
There were years -- entire decades -- when I couldn't watch Ted Kennedy on television. Especially not in close-ups; I couldn't bear to watch Ted Kennedy in close-ups on live TV.
I needed to see the room.
There was a hand somewhere, with a gun somewhere -- I knew it, we all knew it. I needed to see the room so that I could see the hand with the gun rise out of the crowd, so that I could prepare myself, or shout a futile warning to the screen, or turn away in the split-second before the damage was done.
I couldn't bear to watch him in close-up, worried at every moment that the bullet might already be on its way, and that the moment we'd know for sure would already be too late.
This is how so many of us looked at Ted Kennedy -- eyes half-averted -- in those days, for all those years. Hard to fathom how he must have looked at himself.
Even harder to fathom: How he carried on with his life. In the spotlight. In the crosshairs.
Too much "carrying on" was one way he carried on, of course. He was frequently out of control -- more caricature than senator -- even as his legislative achievements mounted. He fought the good fights, brave and necessary and sometimes lonely fights, even as he fought the demons.
And then -- who knows why? -- the demons receded. Retreated. The joy was still there, by all accounts. But now, astonishingly, there was also a serenity at the center. Given the gift of years, he seized the opportunity to remake himself. He became the kind of person a Ted Kennedy could admire.
When the end came, it came in his own home. In his own time.
And still too soon.
# # #
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at email@example.com.