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ted-kennedy.jpgThis morning the nation mourns the loss of Edward Kennedy, the “Lion of the Senate” whose 46-year career as a Massachusetts Senator is one of the most storied in its history.  Kennedy died of brain cancer late last night at age 77.

Here at Fresh Living, I’m thinking about a couple of things this morning.

First, the politics–Kennedy was a reliable champion of a liberal perspective on myriad issues, carrying on the legacy of his brothers.  He recently called health care “the cause of my life.”  Check out this Wall Street Journal blog post abut Kennedy’s health care legacy, including his successes adding prescription drug benefits to Medicare and passing the Americans with Disabilities Act and the mental health parity bill.

But Kennedy is a symbol of more than his politics.  As the leader of the Kennedy family, he is a national symbol of tragedy, whether he was standing beside Jackie Kennedy at the funeral of President John Kennedy in 1963, scattering the ashes of John F. Kennedy, Jr. after a tragic 1999 plane crash, mourning the deaths of two of his brother Robert’s sons, or witnessing two of his own children go through cancer treatments (both survived, though his son Edward Jr. lost a leg).  There’s a “Book of Job” pallor to this litany of death and mourning, and though many cast the Kennedys in a negative light, many others have drawn inspiration from the simple act of survival for such a publicly tragic family.

Finally, I have a personal Ted Kennedy gratitude story to share.  In 2003, my husband, a Captain in the Army Reserves, was transferred to a New Hampshire-based unit and deployed to Kuwait just as the Iraq War was ramping up.  This was before the standard year-long deployment schedules were public knowledge (or had even been decided on, most likely).  So we were all told to expect an absence of 4-6 months when they left in March. 

Six months later, in late September, word came down: the tour would be extended (his total absence wound up being 14 months).  Rumors flew that because of the extension, a 2-week R&R leave program would be instituted.  Everyone exhaled a little at the thought of a reunion with our loved ones, however brief.

But the Army is funny sometimes, and suddenly and without explanation, the R&R program was rescinded.  I was devastated.  My whole family and I wrote letters to the 2 New Hampshire Senators (both Republicans), urging (begging?) them to reconsider the leave.  I got back 2 form letters saying that because we’re not constituents (we live in Massachusetts, my family in Maryland), our letters would not even be read.  Senate policy, I understand, but it left me feeling alone and deeply discouraged.

The next thing I knew, Senator Kennedy was involved, demanding an explanation from the Army, proposing in Congress that at least the soldiers should be reimbursed for plane tickets they had purchased for the leave.  The Boston Globe covered it.  The New York Times covered it.  And two weeks later, the leave was reinstated.  Rob and I were able to toast our 4th wedding anniversary live and in person while he got a break from the desert and I got a break from 24/7 worry.

So–thank you, Senator Kennedy, for whatever you did for the 368th Engineer Battalion in 2003.  Even if all you did was ask a couple of questions, it meant the world to hundreds of families during a terrible time.  And we all know terrible times are something you yourself knew all too well.  Rest in peace.

(image via: http://8vsb.wordpress.com/2008/01/28/sen-kennedy-is-backing-obama-for-president-post-no-012808-2/)

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