As ironic as it may seem to some, I want to give a few of my regards to Senator Kennedy. Many of his lines of thinking with regard to politics I did not agree with, but my experience has shown he was a man whose heart was of gold. When a person passes, it is customary to share of an experience or two as a tribute to the goodness of a person, and to ignore the bad (of which I have had no such experience).
While growing up there were a number of individuals who made it known to me how very much they disagreed with Democrat Principles. Senator Kennedy’s name was one that somehow usually found its way into the assault on the Democratic Party and their ideals. Coming from a heavily Republican territory, of which I make no statements for or against, my views were somewhat colored concerning this man.
In 2003, I paid a visit to some friends in Baltimore. He was working in Senator Kennedy’s office as an intern. I guess Senator Hatch and Senator Kennedy’s were good friends and had this sort of ‘trade’ program where the two offices would swap an intern for the summer. My friend, who like me, tended to find myself in middle ground claiming neither Republican nor Democrat territory, relished the opportunity. It was with him I learned from his first-hand experience with Senator Kennedy. It was during recess so the Senator was not in town, but I was able to meet many of his other interns and see his office. A man’s office tends to tell quite a bit about him. My impression then was of a man that didn’t necessary come down different than the stories I had heard while younger. All the signed photographs of notable people on the walls seemed to smack more of arrogance than anything. A picture of him and his brother (maybe brothers) sat on the mantle showing the classic Kennedy smiles with deceased family members well enshrined in our country.
Anyhow, those impressions were quickly dismissed when I met the man himself in 2005. My first time meeting him was after having just walked through security in the Russell Senate Office Building I waited for an elevator. A man with a white tuft of hair walked around the corner with his dogs. I instantly recognized him, how can you not. Since it was the Senator elevator that opened, I stepped back to allow him on and watched the doors start to close. He stopped the doors and asked if I wasn’t going up. I must have showed my reluctance since staff are to give up their elevator to Senators and let them ride alone. He smiled and said it was okay, he didn’t mind. I knew he genuinely meant what indicated and we spent our few seconds riding the same elevator.
Now, you can say he was being a nice guy. But I can tell you that some of the other Senators are not quite as friendly. My next story actually deals with Senator Kennedy and his kindness in contrast with the rudeness of two other Senators.
I was asked to give a tour to a family from Oregon. It wasn’t my turn, but for some reason or another they has asked if I could give their tour. Honestly, I don’t know why, I had never met them before. The couple had two darling girls, one about 5 or 6 and the other about 8 or 9. It was only the four of them and since it was not a usual time, I knew we would have a degree of solitude in giving them a tour of the Capitol. I had taken my time and given a very leisurely tour of the Capitol. However, as we were about to exit the Capitol we must have caught the flow of traffic from a vote that had just been taken. Quite a few staff and some Senators were coming out of the elevators and heading to the tram to head back to the Senate Offices. We were ahead of the traffic and were waiting for our tram to arrive to take us back to the Russell Senate Building. Just like the elevator, we are to give up our seat on the tram to a Senator. As my family was about to board the tram, I recognized Senator Kennedy heading our way and stopped boarding to let him on. He recognized that I had left him the seat to get on. Rather than getting on the tram, he stopped to shake the hand of both of the little girls. He asked their names, he asked where they were from, introduced himself, and asked if they wanted to ride with them. They agreed and Senator Kennedy helped them on the train, sitting one of them on his lap. The family got on and I told them that I would walk (the tram was full) and meet them on the other end. I saw the tram take off and watched the Senator beaming at these two little girls.
On a side note, as that tram took off, the other one arrived for the Russell Senate Building. It was then I was rudely pushed out of the way so another man could pass. The man beside me responded by saying, “Who is the prick?” To which I saw a tall man turn back and look, and instantly recognized Senator Kerry. I thought to myself what a contrast in the two Senators from Massachusetts.
It is about a 5 minute walk to the other end of the tunnel to where the tram stops and there I saw my family still talking with Senator Kennedy in the hallway that leads to the Russell Building. They were kind enough to wait for me, and Senator Dodd had joined them. Senator Kennedy said he was going to take them up to see his dogs and office. We rode in the elevator to the 3rd floor, left Senator Dodd in the elevator, and went to see his office. He totally treated that family as golden, let them take a couple of pictures, and we were on our way.
My impressions of Senator Kennedy were nothing but respect for a man who obviously treasured people more than prestige. In my personal interactions with him, I have seen nothing but kindness. Now I don’t know otherwise, but I was impressed.
We left the office and the family was obviously impressed. The father’s comments were along the lines of what I was thinking. “I have been misled about that man.” Being a staunch Republican from Oregon, he had a paradigm shift. Too bad as the elevator stopped on the 3rd floor to go up, we were just getting in when another man approached. I recognized him as Senator Specter. He entered the elevator and since we were on the inside, I didn’t attempt to get the family with me out of the elevator. He was alone so I thought it would be okay. As the doors closed, he stopped them and made it clear we were to leave. Our little brush with Camelot quickly came to an abrupt close as we realized Kennedy’s kindness didn’t extend to other Senators.
Back on the 4th floor, I lead them to the office and we parted ways. We were all changed individuals. Just because I am getting long, I will just mention my profound respect for a man who still recognized the common man and was happy to mingle with them despite his busy schedule.
My only other experience with the man was again in an elevator, this time in the Capitol himself. Just the two of us, he turned to me and asked a question. Of course, I was caught completely off guard, and really didn’t have much of an opinion or knowledge about what he just asked me. I told him I didn’t know enough to answer his question. We were both getting off on the same floor and I let him lead out. It was then he turned as if to ask me another question. The doors closed and I found me face to face with the man. He said he really wanted my first impressions on the subject. As an idiot, I rattled off some answer that was not well thought about and tried to give some justification and reasoning for what I thought. He then asked me a very penetrating question that indicated how very ignorant I was on the subject. I made a slight comment about how he was probably more informed and I really didn’t know. To that he patted me on the arm and walked away, but it was with a twinkle in his eye. I don’t think he did it to show that he was more knowledgeable, but just to get another opinion on something he was thinking about. Looking back, I made an idiot of myself. But he didn’t make me feel that way.
I know he is much maligned for many things. I cannot speak for his morals, his history, or his doctrine. Ultimately, we all answer to God for that. But I saw a man who still knew how to connect with people. Something I saw in very few other Senators. Since I doubt God respects Senators, I wish Edward Kennedy the best in the realm he now finds himself. I love the man, and feign to believe the friend, I had a brief acquaintance with here in mortality.