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Look to the Rainbow

Look to the Rainbow

Hello, everyone.

The title of this essay comes from the title of a song that appears very early in the 1946 musical “Finian’s Rainbow”. Here are the first verse and chorus.

“On the day I was born, said my father, said he

“I’ve an elegant legacy waitin’ for ye.

‘Tis a rhyme for your lips and a song for your heart

To sing it whenever the world falls apart. “

“Look, look, look to the rainbow

Follow it over the hill and the stream

Look, look, look to the rainbow

Follow the fellow who follows a dream.”

I will say more about the last line of the chorus later.

Judy, a member of my Yahoo group,  sent back a response to the message about the coach and the senator. I was going to take the long complex URL she sent over to the Tiny URL site for an address that was more manageable, but after reading the article, I decided that the best thing to do was to copy the relevant parts and put them in this message. So here it is.

* * * * * * * *

At the interment at Arlington, retired Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick used the brief rite as an opportunity to read much of the contents of the two letters, which revealed something about both senator and pope.

Kennedy’s letter was in both a plea and a brief for himself — as well as a vouching for Obama. He began:

“Most Holy Father, I asked President Obama to personally hand deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me, and I am deeply grateful to him.

“I hope this letter finds you in good health. I pray that you have all of God’s blessings as you lead our Church and inspire our world during these challenging times.

“I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines. I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago, and, although I continue treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me. I am 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life.

“I have been blessed to be a part of a wonderful family, and both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained, nurtured and provided solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith, I have tried to right my path.”

Then Kennedy goes on to defend his public record — a last apologia from a controversial Catholic figure. And while he avoids altogether the pro-choice record that was the source of his greatest tension with the hierarchy, he does vow that (as Obama has) that any health care reform package would include conscience protections for health care workers who refuse to participate in procedures that would violate their beliefs, such as abortion:

“I want you to know, Your Holiness, that in my nearly 50 years of elective office, I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I’ve worked to welcome the immigrant, fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war. Those are the issues that have motivated me and been the focus of my work as a United States Senator.

“I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I am committed to do everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health care field and will continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone.

“I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings. I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and our Church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.”

Two weeks later, the pope responded, writing, as usual, through a senior Vatican official:

“The Holy Father has read the letter which you entrusted to President Barack Obama, who kindly presented it to him during their recent meeting. He was saddened to know of your illness, and has asked me to assure you of his concern and his spiritual closeness. He is particularly grateful for your promise of prayers for him and for the needs of the universal Church.

“His Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope, and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God our merciful Father. He invokes upon you the consolation and peace promised by the Risen Savior to all who share in His sufferings and trust in His promise of eternal life.

“Commending you and the members of your family to the loving intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of wisdom, comfort and strength in the Lord.”

Benedict wisely, and predictably, rendered no judgment on Kennedy’s public record. But his charitable and heartfelt expressions of support and prayer are sure to to be a solace in liberal quarters. In remarks prepared for the interment service, Cardinal McCarrick was at his usual pastoral self, offering condolences to Kennedy’s widow, Vicki, and all the family — and adding a story of his own that seemed to put in perspective the entire saga of Kennedy’s often tricky relationship to the church:

“They called him the Lion of the Senate and indeed that is what he was,” McCarrick said. “His roar and his zeal for what he believed made a difference in our nation’s life.”

“Sometimes, we who were his friends and had affection for him would get mad at him when he roared at what we believed was the wrong side of an issue which was important to us, but we always were touched by his passion for the underdog, for the rights of working people, for better education and for adequate health care for every American,” the cardinal added. “His legacy will surely place him among the dozen or so greats in the history of the Senate of the United States.”

* * * * * * * * * *

And now for Bob Herbert’s article, thanks to Crooks & Liars. I have read a lot of Herbert over the years, but I do believe that this is the finest article of his that I have ever read.

* * * * * * * * * *

Look to the Rainbow

By BOB HERBERT

Published: August 28, 2009

When Jack Kennedy learned on a May morning in 1948 that his sister Kathleen, known as Kick, had been killed in a plane crash in Europe, he had been listening to recordings from the Broadway musical “Finian’s Rainbow.”

Jack, not yet 31, had already lost his older brother Joseph Jr., a Navy pilot whose plane exploded while on a bombing mission in World War II. It’s not easy to imagine the kind of resilience required to make your way through tragedies that, in the case of the Kennedys, often reached Shakespearean proportions. That resilience was one of the many things to admire about Jack and his siblings, fortunate in so many ways and damned in so many others.

It’s easy to miss the point about the Kennedys. The drama is always right there in your face to distract you. (Even now, with Ted barely gone, the struggle is under way over how his successor in the Senate is to be chosen, and whether Ted’s death will be a spur to — or the death knell for — health care reform.)

The most significant aspect of the Kennedys, more important than their reliably liberal politics or Ted’s long list of legislative accomplishments, was their ability to inspire. They offered the blessed gift of hope to millions, year after year and decade after decade. The key to understanding both the influence and the importance of the Kennedys was to pay close attention to what they said and what they tried to accomplish, and not let the depths of meaning in their words and aspirations become obscured by individual failings or shortcomings, the Kennedy Sturm und Drang.

So there was President Kennedy in 1963, in a landmark commencement address at American University in Washington at the height of the cold war, making an impassioned case on behalf of “the most important topic on earth: peace.” Calling for a halt to the arms race with the Soviet Union, Kennedy told the graduates that it was important for Americans to examine their attitudes toward peace.

“Too many of us think it is impossible,” he said. “Too many think it is unreal. But that is a dangerous, defeatist belief. It leads to the conclusion that war is inevitable, that mankind is doomed, that we are gripped by forces we cannot control. We need not accept that view. Our problems are man-made, therefore they can be solved by man.”

The Kennedy message was always to aim higher, and they always — or almost always — appealed to our best instincts. So there was Bobby speaking to a group of women at a breakfast in Terre Haute, Ind., during the 1968 campaign. As David Halberstam recalled, Bobby told the audience: “The poor are hidden in our society. No one sees them anymore. They are a small minority in a rich country. Yet I am stunned by a lack of awareness of the rest of us toward them.”

Bobby cared about the poor and ordinary working people in a way that can seem peculiar in post-Reagan America. And his insights into the problems of urban ghettos in the 1960s seemed to point to some of the debilitating factors at work in much of the nation today. Bobby believed, as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. has noted, that the crisis of the cities ultimately came from “the destruction of the sense, and often the fact, of community, of human dialogue, the thousand invisible strands of common experience and purpose, affection and respect which tie men to their fellows.”

Kennedy worried about the dissolution of community in a world growing ever more “impersonal and abstract.” He wanted the American community to flourish, and he knew that could not be accomplished in an environment of increasing polarization, racial and otherwise.

“Ultimately,” he said, “America’s answer to the intolerant man is diversity, the very diversity which our heritage of religious freedom has inspired.”

Like his brothers and sisters (don’t forget Eunice Kennedy Shriver and the Special Olympics), Bobby believed deeply in public service and felt that the whole point of government was to widen the doors of access to those who were being left out.

“Camelot” became a metaphor for the Kennedys in the aftermath of Jack’s assassination. But I always found “Finian’s Rainbow” to be a more appropriate touchstone for the family, especially the song “Look to the Rainbow,” with the moving lyric, “Follow the fellow who follows a dream.”

That was Ted’s message at Bobby’s funeral. The Kennedys counseled us for half a century to be optimistic and to strive harder, to find the resilience to overcome those inevitable moments of tragedy and desolation, and to move steadily toward our better selves, as individuals and as a nation.

Ted’s burial today is a perfect opportunity to remember the best that the family has given us.

* * * * * * * * * *

In my original message on the senator and the coach, I quoted a statement that Ted made at Bobby’s funeral. That statement bears repeating now. “One of the greatest quotes I ever heard was spoken at Robert Kennedy’s funeral. I believe it was Ted who gave it. Here is the gist of it: ‘Bobby was one of those men who looked at all the suffering people and asked, “Why”? Then he would look at himself in the mirror and say “Why not”’?”

At the start of this message, I quoted the first verse and the chorus from the song “Look to the Rainbow”. That last line deserves to be requoted: “Follow the fellow who follows a dream.” I want to end this message with a consideration of that line.

In the Old Testament, in the Second Chapter of Joel, there is an earth-shattering prophecy: “In the last days, I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your old men will see visions and your young men will dream dreams.” Notice that, according to Joel, the Supreme God will pour his spirit out upon ALL people – NOT just “Christians” or Jews, but upon the Buddhists, the Muslims, the Confucianists – indeed ALL people. One time, I was talking with someone – I believe it was my late wife Carol – and I made the comment about how totally unbelievable it was for a family as wealthy as the Kennedys were to have such a vision as they had for helping the less fortunate in “American” society. I believe that that vision had two sources. First is the promise of the Supreme God as found in Joel. Second is the teaching of the Catholic Church. Remember Catholic Charities? Had the Kennedys been Protestant, I am persuaded that they would have been Mainline and that the Mainline Protestant Church would have given them their vision.

“Follow the fellow who follows a dream.” We have been blessed in this country to have had some leaders with dreams and visions. Thomas Jefferson had a vision that “all men are created equal, with certain inalienable rights”. I recall reading somewhere that Benjamin Franklin and George Washington really gave Jefferson a lot of grief over that idea. And many of those with dreams and visions paid the ultimate price – with their lives. Abraham Lincoln had the dream of a united country, with slavery only an unpleasant memory – and John Wilkes Booth tried to kill the dream by killing Lincoln. James Garfield and William McKinley had their dreams and paid dearly for doing so – Garfield by Charles Guiteau and McKinley by Charles Czolgasz. John F. Kennedy had a dream of a country with a level playing field for all, and Lee Harvey Oswald killed that dream in a conservative Texas city. Robert F. Kennedy had a dream of an “America” that truly was governed by “liberty and justice for all,” and Sirhan Sirhan killed THAT dream. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream which he spoke eloquently about at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, that the day would come when we would not be people of color, but that we would truly be brethren in this land, and James Earl Ray killed THAT dream as well as the one who dreamed it. And finally, Bill Clinton had a dream that everyone would be equal under the law and that there would be equal opportunity for all. Clinton was not murdered, but his dream was – by Kenneth Starr, the Republicans, and the Evangelical Christians.

I too have had dreams. I dreamed about being a high-school teacher, and then a curriculum co-ordinator, a principal, and even a superintendent of schools – until I ran into a myriad of parents who did not want Johnny or Susie in a classroom led by a teacher who could not see. I dreamed about having my eyes healed and being able to drive and live like normal guys – until I learned that all the lies, myths, and fairy tales about the Cross Rider being able to heal people were exactly that – lies, myths, and fairy tales. I used to dream about finding a nice girl, getting married, and having kids – until I started hearing daddies saying that they didn’t want their little girls anywhere around Bad Eyes Billy – and yes, I have actually been called that. I used to believe all the horse shit about the so-called “American Dream” — until I learned AT LAST that that dream was nothing but a cruel nightmare for the little guy who had no privilege.

But I still dared to dream dreams. And, rather than the Cross Rider, who couldn’t even carry his own cross to his execution but needed help from one Simon of Cyrene, a reputed black man, my heroes became men with visions, like Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, FDR, Truman, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. And especially FDR, who battled polio to become the leader who led us through this country’s darkest hours, the Great Depression and World War II. I decided that if FDR could accomplish much after suffering from polio, then I could accomplish even a little after suffering with bad eyes.

Burton Lane wrote the music and E. Y. Harburg wrote the words for “Finian’s Rainbow”. They wrote the line “Follow the fellow who follows a dream.” And I do not care if it is a line from a musical; I truly think it is a good line to follow in living one’s life. If I had any children of my own, I would have taught them to make that line the cornerstone of their philosophy of life.

All of you have a great day today.

Bill

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September 1, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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