As Ted Kennedy disappeared from the public eye this summer, I liked to think of him as thirty-two years old, strapped to an orthopedic bed in Boston, waiting for his back to heal.
It was the summer of 1964 -- forty-five years ago now -- when his plane crashed and he badly broke his back. No surgery, they decided. He'd have to be laid up for half a year, practically in a full-body brace. He took that time to reeducate himself, to read and think about subjects he hadn't paid enough attention to in school. It was now his duty to be ready.
"Jack was gone," his biographer Adam Clymer imagines him thinking, "... Robert would lead, but he would not be far behind."
Teddy emerged a new man -- smarter and more serious. He was ready to take on the challenges of the country. And for the next forty-five years, he did.
As news of his condition worsened, and it looked less and less likely that he would return to the Senate stronger than ever, I still liked to think of him spending another summer in exile, preparing for the health care debate ahead.
Ted Kennedy knew how brutal our health care system can be. It's another thing he learned while strapped to that bed, talking to friends about how they'd sustain themselves during long illnesses. I imagine he would say his passing adds no new urgency to the reform legislation now under consideration; he might say that reform has been urgent for too long for anything to make it more urgent than it already is.
But I say this to President Obama: get the health care bill through Congress. Make it a good one, so that it's worthy of Ted Kennedy's legacy. And when that is done, and Congress sends you the bill, take it to Columbia Point, home of the JFK Library and overlooking the city where Ted was once strapped in that bed to think about his future... to think about our nation's future.
Sign the health care bill and make it law right there, with Teddy looking on.