I'm neither a fan nor a follower of American politics and I don't have any particular fascination with the Kennedy family, but what pulled me into the book immediately was the first 120 pages where Teddy describes what day-to-day life was like growing up in his family where he was the youngest of nine children. He says:
We depended on each other....We learned from and taught one another.
We worshipped with one another. We loved one another. We were
mutually loyal, even as we were mutually competitive, with an intensity that
owed more to joy than to an urge for dominance. These values flowed into
us [from our parents]....They helped us form bonds among one another, and to
develop personalities based on those bonds, to an extent that remains to this
day under-appreciated by the chroniclers of my family. They sustain me
still. They lie at the heart of the story I wish to tell. ( page 18)
Now of course when one writes a memoir, one can include, omit, embellish and gloss over events and relationships to suit the impression one wants to give the reader. But even if Teddy has embellished the nature of his family relationships, they are still fascinating to read about and ponder. Are larger families more likely to produce stronger bonds between siblings because there is simply less individual attention from parents? What makes older children feel the weight of being a (good) role model for the younger siblings?
In a further description of the role of his family of origin as the solid foundation of his life, Teddy says:
We knew that we could always come home, that we could make mistakes, get
defeated, but when all was said and done, we would be respected and appreciated
at home. Dad [Joseph P. Kennedy] himself had no fear because he knew in
his heart that he was working hard for the family; he was doing everything he
possibly could to show us how to lead constructive lives. But at the
end of the day, it was up to each of us to carry out what he'd taught us.
More to ponder. Am I doing anything to show my children how to lead constructive lives? Am I even doing anything constructive with my life?
A further passage that stuck in my mind is where Teddy describes the Christian principle which guided his personal and political lives.
My own center of belief, as I matured and grew curious about these things, moved
toward the great Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25 especially, in which [H]e calls
us to care for the least of these among us, and feed the hungry, clothe the
naked, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, visit the
imprisoned....To me, this perspective on my faith has almost literally been a
lifesaver. It has given me strength and purpose during the greatest
challenges I have faced,.... (pages 29-30)
My faith, and the love of following its rituals, has always been my foundation and my inspiration. those foundations have been shaken at times by tragedy and misfortune, but faith remains fixed in my heart, as it has been since my childhood days. It is the most positive force in my life and the cause of my eternal optimism. I have fallen short in my life, but my faith has always brought me home. (page 505)
And certainly it seems that during Senator Kennedy's long tenure in politics, the causes that he gave the most attention always involved civil rights, health care, the rights of workers and responsible economic development. I admire it. Is it easier or harder for a rich person to stand up for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised? And to say that his life was shaken by tragedy is such a massive understatement. Of 9 siblings, only 5 lived into their 40s. And yet through it all it seems that the Senator was able to maintain both his personal and professional visions of what is right and good and purposeful.
Ultimately, the book is very encouraging and leaves one with a positive sense that perseverance coupled with the setting of high standards of personal achievement will produce a fulfilling life. Perhaps even a life where one attains one's full potential.