This weekend I had the television on as I worked on BB2 (there is a good amount of mindless work –attaching page numbers, converting to PDF, etc- that allows for multi-tasking) and caught a fair amount of the memorial and funeral services for Ted Kennedy.
Many ideas percolated for me throughout: the importance of enthusiasm and zest for life, compassion for those in emotional and physical need, perseverance in the face of great loss, the redemptive power of forgiveness, love, and time…
Having my particular bent, I also could not help but think back to the ancient Roman Republic when large aristocratic families held much of the power in Rome, even families whose ancestors might have been ill-reputes (since Romulus opened his new city to the outcasts of surrounding tribes). The men of these families served in the Senate and also worked their way up through the elected offices of the cursus honorum, which culminated in the consulship. The consul was kind of like our president but there were two elected, both of whom held power for only 1 year.
Accepting no salary, these aristocrats were public-minded men who served the Republic for a lifetime and groomed their children to do the same. As I watched the Kennedys, young and old step forward to honor their patriarch, and as I, of course glimpsed the many black and white photographs of Joe, John, and Robert, with a younger Ted, that the news networks repeatedly displayed, I was drawn to compare this family with the Scipios of the later Roman Republic.
One obvious connection was the public murder of two brothers, Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus (Scipios through their mother’s line) who were attempting to bring reform to the Republic.
Some time ago I had created an activity for BB2 showing the family tree of the Scipios spanning about 6 generations. Out of about 20 males listed in the tree, 13 attained the office of consul in the Republic, several of them more than once, and others held many lower positions in the cursus honorum. Many were generals, including Scipio Africanus the Elder, the conqueror of Hannibal in the 2nd Punic War, and Scipio Africanus the Younger, the destroyer of Carthage in the 3rd Punic War. Scipio the Elder’s father and uncle both lost their lives to Carthaginian foes in the same year on Spanish battlefields. I marveled to myself then that there could have been no question in the mind of the Scipio parents as to what vocation to prepare their children for –they all were destined for public service and leadership in their society.
Witnessing Kennedys as young as 10 stand up in front of thousands of people to speak a few words, I had no doubt as to what they are being prepared for, either. Their family tree would reveal a president, senators, congressmen, governors, state legislators, leaders in business and philanthropic institutions, etc. Particular politics, ambitions, and personalities aside, I was struck by the singular thrust of this family: leadership and service to others and the willingness to bear the sacrifice they entail.
Naturally, my thoughts turned toward the education of my own children and the children I teach…How to instill the skills and heart for leadership, service, and sacrifice in whatever endeavor they pursue?
I am continuing to percolate on this…