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Local view: Ted Kennedy worked hard to earn redemption

"My father was not perfect. Far from it. But he believed in redemption." -- Edward Kennedy Jr., Aug. 29 "I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter ... and I think it's about forgiveness." -- Don Henley, The Eagles I listened to the ...

Edward M. Kennedy

"My father was not perfect. Far from it. But he believed in redemption." -- Edward Kennedy Jr., Aug. 29

"I've been trying to get down to the heart of the matter ... and I think it's about forgiveness." -- Don Henley, The Eagles

I listened to the eulogies for Edward Moore Kennedy, the youngest son of Rose and Joe. President Obama was, as usual, splendidly eloquent. But, as is often the case at times of goodbyes, it was family who had, if not the last, the best words. And it seemed to me that one word son Edward Kennedy Jr. used best summed up his father's life: redemption.

I am a member of a generation that grew up with stories of the Ken-nedys' Cam-elot, stories of a handsome, gifted people who lived a fairy-tale existence. We have since learned, of course, that Camelot was a myth. We have learned the story we re-learn over and over again, that even those who seem the best among us are deeply flawed. We now know the truth that the Kennedy men often acted like spoiled children, abusing their wealth, power and privilege.

Had Chappaquiddick happened today, it's unlikely that Ted Ken-nedy's political career would have survived. His cowardly and likely criminal acts would be mercilessly exposed in the blogosphere. Perhaps even the forgiving voters of Massachusetts would have rejected him. Ted Ken-nedy's public life would have ended, sent to the bottom of the waters off Martha's Vineyard, buried along with Mary Jo Kopechne.

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But the remarkable forces of second chances worked in Ted Kennedy's life to bring about an extraordinary period of productivity and, yes, redemption. The voters of Massachusetts did forgive, and they returned him to the United States Senate.

In return for that extraordinary (some would say inexplicable) show of trust, Ted Kennedy worked to achieve redemption. He committed to use his position of power to work on behalf of the poor. He sought to do good works in a very public setting. He became one the most respected senators in the history of this country, working to achieve civil rights for the disabled, the discriminated against, the powerless. He mastered the messy work of legislating and forged compromises when compromise seemed impossible. He attempted to carry out Christ's admonition to use power and privilege to help "the least of these." In the process, at least in the eyes of many, he regained much of the respect and admiration lost that dark night in the waters near Chappaquiddick.

We should be inspired by this story of the power of forgiveness, second chances and what we can accomplish when they are extended to us. And we should ponder at length when and to whom they should be extended, for Ted Kennedy would recognize and admit that second chances are still too often extended only to the rich and powerful.

Carol Person practiced law in Duluth from 1981 to 1993, when she was appointed a judge of State District Court, chambered in Duluth. She served until retiring in 2004.

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