Yesterday I followed the funeral of Edward (Ted) Kennedy via the internet. I read the various articles about him, and read text of the talks at his service; they even had the program from the funeral Mass posted on the internet.
Ted Kennedy was human, and he made mistakes but I love that at the end of life we become so forgiving and focus on what is good and decent in a person. I think we should probably live like that all the time, and not just when someone dies. It goes without saying that a person has made mistakes and lives with regrets, and so why dwell on that? So much the better to make a choice to shift attention to what is equally true -- that each person has strengths and attributes that can be celebrated. Why does it take death for us to think that way?
Two things really stood out for me yesterday. First, Ted Kennedy made a choice to continue a life in public service even as he grieved for his brothers -- all three who died in service to others. Who would have blamed him if he became bitter and withdrew from public life? But he did what I believe people of courage do naturally and that is to take tragedy and make choices that create something good and honorable out of terrible events.
Faced with a life crisis of any kind, we really do have choices. We can allow it to drag us under and make us an additional casualty or we can use what we experience to become better and stronger and more committed and compassionate. Ted Kennedy squared up and walked forward, and in doing so he created a legacy not only for himself, but also for his family. And he showed that you can look evil in the face and not become it.
The other thing that really struck me yesterday -- and I believe is related to the first thing -- is that Ted Kennedy was and is a man of great faith. It touched me to read that he had written to the Pope and asked for prayers as he stared down the end of his time on earth. Ted Kennedy's commitment to public service was intertwined with his strong faith, and it was clear that he relied on that faith throughout his life.
And yet he held political and perhaps personal positions that were opposed by his own Church. He made choices that were not consistent with what the Catholic Church would support -- was he therefore a hypocrite? Is the Catholic Church filled with wishy washy believers?
What I think -- and this relates to yesterday's Blog -- is that people can find a place within a faith community and not be defined by it. Ted Kennedy was not a hypocrite -- he was a man of great faith who was on his own spiritual quest, and apparently found that the community of Catholics supported his personal faith journey.
Religion and faith have become easy targets of intolerance -- perhaps because they are and have been too often intolerant. I want to say two things about this. First, fighting intolerance with more intolerance does not reduce intolerance! Second, isn't it possible for people (or groups) to have a different point of view without it being "intolerant" of the opinion and/or rights of others?
And if a group or person believes that XYZ is wrong and not in the best interest of society, are they required to sit down and shut up simply because another group has a different position? How is that fair?
I have seen the way that strong faith sustains people and transforms them. And I have seen disdain for people simply because they belong to a faith community. I wish that disagreements were more often seen as opportunities to explore strongly held convictions and less often seen as threats. I wish that tolerance and acceptance really meant respect, and not just for people with whom we can agree.
I admire Ted Kennedy -- for a life that reflected courage and faith. I have complete confidence that the prayers he requested were heard and answered, even as I am unsure about what the answers were.
Life is filled with mystery and I have found it best to just accept that, and have faith and hope that all will be well in the end.