A Personal Memory of Senator Kennedy
by Astyanax, Thu Aug 27, 2009 at 11:02:03 AM EDT
As I watch the motorcade taking the mortal remains of Senator Edward Moore Kennedy to Boston for viewing at the JFK Library this afternoon, I remember being a college student at St. Peter's College in Jersey City, New Jersey in 1968. A 36 year old Senator Kennedy spoke at the college on the issues of the day: the war in Viet-Nam, civil rights and the campaign of his brother, Bobby, for President of the United States only a few months before his brother's violent death in California.
After the speech, he was taken to a blocked off section of the front cafeteria for a brief lunch before his return to Washington, DC. Three of my friends and I, unable to find room in the larger back cafeteria, sat alone at a table in the front cafeteria and talked about what we had just witnessed, and what we thought of what Senator Kennedy had said. Suddenly, the door opened and out came the Senator along with the college officials who had lunch with him. He was still a very young man, broad-shouldered with a jaunt in his step and the awkward smile of youth on his face. We were thrilled that he was going to pass us on his way out of the school. Suddenly, he stopped at our table and, standing over us, asked us what we thought of his speech. We were dumbfounded, but stuttered out our praise for what he had said. Slowly, he pulled out a chair and sat with us for a few minutes to follow up on some of our observations. His easy manner and personable nature made us forget who we were talking to as we discussed with him the issues of the day, issues that would, in time, have a profound impact on our history and our own lives.
"I'd better get going." he told us as he rose from his seat. "I think they are waiting for me." We rose too, and each shook his hand and thanked him for stopping to talk to us. "Wait a minute." he said as we said our goodbyes. He walked back into the private dining hall and returned with the floral centerpiece that was on his table. "No sense in wasting this." he said, as he put it in the center of our table. We thanked him as we watched him leave the room.
His brother Jack had been brutally assassinated only a few years before. Within a few months, his brother Bobby would be gone too. In retrospect, this incident is so trivial and so seemingly unimportant, that it barely seems worth mentioning. But,in that moment in time, the conversation between the Senator and a few college students had an importance all its own to each of us who sat at that table that day.
He went on to make a failed run for President of the United States as his brothers before him had done,to become a great Senator, the Lion of the Senate, to endorse the present president, Barak Obama, and to be the patriarch of the Kennedy clan. He will be pictured in the minds of many Americans as the senator with the thick grey main of hair, the craggy face that would be right at home on Mount Rushmore, and that broad Kennedy smile. To the few of us that sat at that cafeteria table that day, he will be the awkward young idealist who didn't see himself as too important to sit with three college students and share a lunchtime discussion.
And that is a memory I will treasure forever.