Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sense of Neighborliness

My clock radio comes on about a minute before 6:00 a.m. I hear the concluding bars of a piece of classical music and then the news. The first words I heard this morning was "Ted Kennedy has died." Not a surprise. I knew he had not left his home in the Kennedy compound all summer. As with the death of his sister, Eunice, a few weeks ago, this "celebrity" death feels like a neighbor has died -- a world famous neighbor who I've never even seen. But the awareness that he was only about a mile away feels very different than if I heard, when living in NYC, that some famous New Yorker had died either at home or in a Manhattan hospital even though that might also have been only a mile away.

A small town -- well, Hyannis is a medium sized town, I guess, has a very different feeling. But when I came back from my beach walk and found three neighbors on the lawn consulting about the planting of a couple of trees, Kennedy's death was not mentioned. In a truly small town I think the death of anyone well known would have been immediately talked about. Possibly there is now a level of fame that removes people into a different sphere. We normal people know that the fame bubble sets them apart from the rest of us. Only something unexpected and horrible like JFK's murder will affect us now. We have become blase about that parallel world even when a death like this one marks the end of a kind of era -- the last of a generation in an outstanding family that was both loved and hated [which is usual for political families].

And for those of us who are the oldest in our generation of our own family there is a resonance. He was 77, ouch! I'm not that much younger. The impersonal becomes more personal in that light.

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