When I was young, I had the good fortune of seeing the stage play of Camelot in an early Boston run. I was probably 10 years old at the time, an impressionable youth with a love for imagery. As you might expect, I was mesmerized by this, my first experience of the performing arts.
Camelot was as real to me for those few hours spent in that theater. But when the show was over, the cast took its bows and left as the house lights came up, I wondered where Camelot went? The stage was empty. It had all been a mirage. As I rode home in the back of my parent’s car I was filled with the experience, but it was tinged with a sadness, for down deep, I knew that the Camelot I had seen didn’t really exist. It was the state of mind it put me in that sustained us all for that brief moment in time. That time was over and I felt empty.
Camelot, as a musical and as imagery, became a phenomenon, one linked to the magic of the Presidency of JFK. We were filled with hope for the future. And when he died, I was once again faced with the fact that Camelot didn’t really exist. It was the state of mind we were in with a youthful, exuberant President suddenly taken from us.
Bobby Kennedy emerged as the standard bearer for the Kennedy family. Did we dare believe in Camelot again? Many of us did. And it seemed that his popularity would sweep him into the White House. His appeal was broad based (a term we didn’t realize, at the time, had a second application). Just as we got our hopes up that Bobby would take the reigns of the country and lift us all back to the magic of Camelot revisited, he was taken from us. The emptiness I felt burned its way into my heart as it did with so many others. Still in my late teens, there was a lesson learned; not to believe in imagery, but rather search for (and acknowledge) reality.
As a society, however, I think we’ve fallen lazily into the effortless comfort of worshiping imagery rather than substance. Is there any other way to explain the 40 year career of Ted Kennedy? How else does one explain Kennedy continuing to get re-elected time and time again? The people of Massachusetts conveniently looked past his endless character flaws, from Chappaquiddick to his womanizing and drinking. Character meant nothing.
A younger generation of Kennedys came upon the scene. Mostly the children of Bobby or Ted. The vast majority of them have seen their political careers overshadowed by their personal problems of drug abuse, drinking and simply boorish behavior. There was little character to observe.
The rose colored glasses that were strapped to my head in the late 60s have long since been thrown out. I stopped looking at the Kennedys as royalty after the 1968 death of Bobby and then Chappaquiddick the following year.
So we are now being told that Patrick Kennedy, the third child of Ted and Joan Kennedy, will not seek re-election to the House of Representatives, representing Rhode Island. It would be easy to take a few parting shots at Patrick. By the time Patrick came along, it was more like, “Oh, God… not another Kennedy!” And he lived down to the reputation. But, somehow, I’m just not interested in taking any cheap shots. Patrick is choosing to leave. Something his father never had the class or decency to do. And why not? He had the support of constituents content to believe in facades, mirages and imagery.
In truth, Patrick Kennedy never really established himself as anything but another Kennedy. He has battled substance abuse, and bi-polar disorder all his adult life by his own admission. He firmly established his credentials as Teddy’s boy when he plowed into a barrier near the Capital building in the wee hours of the morning back in May of 2006.
The reasons for his not seeking re-election have not been made clear. They need not be. The fact that he is stepping down is enough for me to say, “That’s that” and move on. No need for cheap shots. Nothing more to see here, people, move along, please.
The news services are having a field day with the fact that, for the first time in nearly 60 years, there will be no Kennedy family member serving in the House or Senate in Washington. I’m not sure what symbolism they are trying to whip up for those who still choose to live in the world of imagery, but for me it simply reminds me of one of John F. Kennedy’s favorite lines from the final song of Camelot:
“Don’t let it be forgot
That once there was a spot,
For one brief, shining moment
That was known as Camelot.”
Yes, but in truth, that really was long, long ago. And it was, in reality, only in our minds.
Good luck and God speed to you, Patick. There’s still time for you to flourish as a person. May you find your personal peace outside of the political arena.