As a grade school student I would read comic books. I was no expert in the field nor any sort of serious collector but never the less I enjoyed reading them. I liked all sorts of heroes, Marvel or D.C., but my favorite was The Shadow. I liked almost every comic book hero. The only one I was not all that fond of was Superman. A lot of people thought that I was overly critical or just plain crazy, but I felt that Superman was cheap.
He simply had too many powers: x-ray vision, super strength, flight, good looks, and he was invincible. Well, Superman was almost invincible. He had one weakness: Kryptonite.
Kryptonite made Superman just like the rest of us, but it was rare, just about as rare as a super hero, and it wasn’t a constant obstacle for him on a daily basis. For those reasons I didn’t feel that he was a fair hero, and therefore I never liked him much.
One day my comic reading world changed when a neighbor brought me a very special Superman issue. This issue was of course the one where Superman dies. I finally could admire Superman’s accomplishments because he was not immortal anymore; he was a man who tried the world. This issue was comforting to me, even though the hero died in the end.
I come from a family of relatively recent immigrants. They were forced into an exodus from Ireland at the turn of the century against their will for fighting the British over the issues of religious and political liberty. They were fiercely loyal to their roots as hard working Irish Catholics and didn’t feel welcome in America. It took three generations for them to plant both feet in American soil.
For years they would, when asked, say that they were Irish. In 1961 something changed, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected the 35th President of The United States of America, and he was Irish Catholic. From about that point on my great-great grandparents would say, when asked, that they were Irish-American. For them to go from being children brought into the country in the early 1900s who still claimed to be Irishmen in exile to being Irish-American was a phenomenon.
Finally their kind were not railroad workmen at best. They could be politicians. When J.F.K. was assassinated it was a personal blow to many of my family members, but they had hope in his brother Robert Francis Kennedy. Again their hero was taken from them. What they needed was a hero who was not as vulnerable and they found it in Edward Kennedy.
Long after the death of my greatgreat grandparents in the ’70s and my great grandparents in the mid to late ’90s, Teddy was still a hero for our family. The Lion of the Senate seemed like he would always be there to protect the rights of the little man and be a bipartisan leader, but we knew that Teddy would not be in the Senate forever.
It’s now 2009 and the Lion has passed. The last of the Irish Catholics who rose quickly to inspire the rest of us was dead. I never imagined that he would live forever, but didn’t really want to think that even a hero could just pass away when he was still needed. Every man dies, that’s a simple fact, but the worst of it was that something was about to resurface. I knew about the issue and I had just hoped that it would never come up before I’d had enough time to prepare for it.
Just like Superman, Teddy had his own Kryptonite. There was one thing that could bring him crashing back down and that was the Chappaquiddick incident. Superman had the blessing of dealing with a rare substance that could only cripple him in the occasional episode, but Teddy had to carry the weight of his kryptonite on his shoulders for eternity.
One could only imagine what it would be like to carry the death of Mary Jo Kopchne on your conscience every day and every night. The incident was terrible, but I know as well as everyone else that every person has something that they feel ashamed of that will always be there in their mind.
What looms over your head may not be the loss of a young woman’s life, but is it something you want to surround you even after you’re gone? I have made terrible mistakes in life and beg for forgiveness. I never meant for it to happen but it is far too late to simply take it back.
No human is perfect, and if you cannot admit that then perhaps that should be what your shame is, failure to understand that nobody is invincible. When I think about the loss of one of my heroes and the faults that come to light postmortem, I think about how big of a lie every Superman comic was until the issue he died and we could see that even heroes fail sometimes.