SieffstarHow sad, I often think it is, that moment when history becomes nothing more than a memory ingrained in pages.

Archived Story

Jessica Sieff: ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’

Published 10:42am Thursday, September 3, 2009

All of the headlines and the retrospectives of the life of Edward “Teddy” Kennedy are now removed from above the fold – save for an anticipatory look at his upcoming memoir. The rest will be left to specialty web pages and commemorative magazines.

The final of the Kennedy brothers, the one so many held on to with white knuckles simply for the fact that they did not want to lose yet another male member of this thick accented New England political family to yet another tragedy.

One has to admit, from whichever side of the political line on which you might butter your toast, there is something fascinating about that Kennedy brood. Active in such a passionate way, that original clan has been. And they look awfully good on black and white film.

In truth, I knew very little about the youngest of former United States ambassador Joseph Kennedy and his wife, Rose. I grew up believing he was no more than a basis for late night sketch comedy. A drunken, overweight and overwrought buffoon, as some might even whole heartedly believe.

But, it was in reading some of the commentaries, analysis and reflections of the late senator that something struck me.

Deep in the shadows of his older brothers, the tragic bravery of his eldest brother Joe, the dynamic leader of Camelot and left wing hero, John – the second coming, bold and brazen Robert, “Teddy’s” approach to his work in the world of politics and I would imagine, in his life, is not entirely insignificant.

In an article he wrote for Newsweek, Evan Thomas describes an exchange between Robert and his younger brother, both serving as United States senators. Robert expresses impatience during a committee meeting, sitting and waiting for their turns at the particular witness. It was “Teddy” who, addressing his older brother as “Robbie,” Thomas describes, tells the future presidential hopeful that he will have to patiently wait his turn.
Thomas goes on to describe Kennedy as a politico who did not necessarily mind the mundane “drudgery” of legislation. Probably one of the slowest processes to do anything, anywhere, ever.

In that simple paragraph, all at once I could relate to the restlessness, the unbridled need for action that was Robert Kennedy. I am often unsatisfied with a lack of action, a lack of movement, a lack of grandeur. And I was struck by the way Teddy saddled patience and time – something that must have been difficult living so long after the loss of each of his brothers.

It is often assumed that the hectic pace of life is what begs to be mastered. We must find a way to manage among the most filled of schedules. We must find a way to do it all in 24 hours or less. We are restless and unsettled. We are each a version of Dylan Thomas – raging against the dying of the light.

Whether you think Kennedy a political force or a fool, there is something to be gained from taking a look at the man’s career.

Sometimes, for some of us, it is not a concern to manage the mayhem. The real challenge lie in the moments that fill us with uncertain silence. The waiting. The drudgery.
Cultivating that restlessness and riding it through the storm to ultimate success.
Teddy did this. Through that restlessness that accompanied the pressures of his tragedies, his deplorable mistakes – there was a push to keep going.

Maybe he achieved calming it, maybe not. That is something nobody can really know about a public figure who managed to stay somewhat private. In regards to his career, everyone’s talking about how he was unable to see his dream realized of universal healthcare. But I would find what can only rest on the shoulders of many not to be one man’s personal failure.

So what is the point?

The point, would be … there is a beauty in the balance of patience and restlessness.

There can be meaning, in moving at such slow a pace, in a dream realized so many years after it was born – when the true purpose, the true desire is not lost.  And it must have been so with Kennedy – to keep trudging along. There must have been some desire there, to show up to the floor every day and plotz through procedure.

When it comes to those dreams so heavily fought for, maybe we can learn from both sides of the line. When morning comes, show up to the floor, do the work, push through the mundane. But there is danger in resting easy when the work is not done. Continue.
One can imagine, having continued to be a part of political public service, even after his family paid so heavy a price, and having remained as active as possible up unto his end, Kennedy might have understood Thomas. “Do not go gentle into that good night…”

Indeed. “Old age should burn and rave at close of day. Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”

Jessica Sieff is a reporter for the Niles Daily Star. Reach her at

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