09/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Remembering Senator Kennedy

Bent with age, Senator Edward Kennedy hobbled out on the stage of Laurie Auditorium at Trinity University in San Antonio and burst into song. It was February 21, 2008, and Kennedy was stumping across Texas for fellow Senator Obama. Laurie Auditorium was one-fifth full, and so few people heard Kennedy belt out "Ay Jalisco No Te Rajes" in his strong Irish tenor voice. In the reductive way of YouTube, the video of this spontaneity makes Kennedy look slightly silly and does not capture the fullness of the occasion. In truth, it was a celebration -- both of Kennedy's exhilaration at campaigning once again and of his belief in a man who had the will to finish what his brothers had begun. With a booming assurance, Kennedy proclaimed to the few lucky to have come to Trinity that Thursday that Barack Obama would "stand up for national health care," unlike the Republicans who have it but "aren't for extending it to anybody else." Health care will be "his first order of business," Kennedy promised. And so we have come to August, 2009.

Leaving Trinity, I shared an elevator with two middle-aged women who began to weep as soon as the elevator door closed. "I never thought I would live to see this day," one woman said. Was she speaking of Kennedy or Obama? Somehow both. "I was sixteen and my mama told me I was too young to go out working for Robert Kennedy; but I sneaked out of the house and did anyway." As the three of us reminisced about Robert Kennedy's brief campaign for the presidency, I was reminded once again that for some African-Americans like these two women it was not a Clinton but a Kennedy who first held forth an inchoate promise that the Inauguration of Obama seemed to fulfill.

Edward Kennedy brought a pure joy to his stumping for Obama. It was an honor and a privilege for me to witness on several occasions his happiness and to share in his sense of closure for the events that both of us, if in very different ways, had experienced long ago. Speaking earlier that February at Oakland's Beebe Memorial Cathedral, where Shirley Chisholm had once announced her run for the presidency, Senator Kennedy said, "America is going to come back to that very special time, a time when my brothers had the great honor of serving. It was a time to challenge America. Each and every one of us in this room know we do best, individually, when we are challenged... and challenged together. We meet as a community. We meet as a state. We meet as a country -- this country always does best when it is challenged."

The great honor of serving. This is Edward M. Kennedy's legacy to all of us.