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Excerpt From 'True Compass: A Memoir'

In the weeks preceding the death of Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy from brain cancer at age 77 on Aug. 25, the publisher of Kennedy’s years-in-the-making autobiography, True Compass: A Memoir, revealed that the book draws freely on notes Kennedy initially believed had been lost

“In researching 'True Compass,' ” Twelve publisher Jonathan Karp told AARP The Magazine, “Senator Kennedy discovered notes he had taken nearly 50 years ago, during JFK’s presidential campaign. The notes brought back incredibly rich memories, now captured in the book—about riding a bronco at a rodeo in Montana, being cajoled into his first ski jump in Wisconsin, and giving a stump speech in support of the program that eventually became Medicare.”

Much of Kennedy’s appeal in his later years stemmed from the grace with which he faced up to his thwarted political ambitions. In a speech at the August 1980 Democratic National Convention, for example, he conceded that year’s presidential nomination to Jimmy Carter with moving words that would become a sort of mantra: “... the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die!"

When doctors detected a malignant tumor in Kennedy’s brain in May 2008, he valiantly opened battle on a second—and infinitely more personal—health front. Despite undergoing surgery the next month, the steadfast Kennedy stood before delegates gathered at the Democratic National Convention in August 2008 to renew his pledge in health care reform as “the cause of my life.” Kennedy had “new hope,” he told convention-goers, “that we will break the old gridlock and guarantee that every American—north, south, east, west; young, old—will have decent, quality health care as a fundamental right and not a privilege.”

The events of the coming months will decide whether health care becomes a right or remains a privilege. In the near term, readers can take the measure of the man themselves by consulting "True Compass."

—Allan Fallow, features editor,
AARP The Magazine

From Chapter 26, “Perseverance"

I still recall that first evening I spent after my seizure in Massachusetts General Hospital: eating chowder from Legal Seafood with Vicki and my children and watching the Red Sox game on TV. But not even someone as hopeful as I would have imagined that on April 7, 2009, I would be standing on the mound at Fenway Park. Like Honey Fitz in 1912, I was ready to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. I leaned in and peered down for the sign from Hall of Famer Jim Rice, who crouched a few feet away. The first pitch fell short of the target, but I was determined, so I threw a second one and hit my mark. As I later told my grandchildren, I was going to keep throwing until I got it right. Persistence matters.

As my story draws to a close, I am living with cancer. And I know that I will die with it and likely from it. But I don’t dwell on that. I have good days and not-so-good days. But more than a year after my diagnosis, I have not yet spent a day in bed. With Vicki’s constant help and encouragement, I follow a healthy diet and continue to do moderate exercise. I look forward to going outside every day, rain or shine, to breathe fresh air. I tire more easily than before and need extra rest, and I sometimes use one word when I mean to use another. Still, I continue to sail, as much as the weather allows. And I pray.

All of my life, the teachings of my faith have provided solace and hope, as have the wonders of nature, especially the sea, where religion and spirituality meet the physical. This faith has been as meaningful to me as breathing or loving my family. It’s all intertwined.

My faith, and the love of following its rituals, have always been my foundation and my inspiration. Those foundations have been shaken at

times by tragedy and misfortune, but faith remains fixed in my heart, as it has been since my childhood days. It is the most positive force in my life and the cause of my eternal optimism. I have fallen short in my life, but my faith has always brought me home.

For almost fifty years, I have represented people who are facing injustice or pain. Life can be violent and grim, but I think of the Resurrection and I feel a sense of hope. When I’ve started down a spiral of depression or negativism or loss, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to see another side that can catch me on the way. I believe that if you have a warm and embracing heart, faith can have a powerful impact on your outlook. Vicki has been a great source of strength and love because we share this underlying belief and faith.

Life is eternal. Work continues. It is a calling, an opportunity to do things about injustice or unfairness. It helps to have a goal. I’ve always tried to have one.

From the book  True Compass: A Memoir, Copyright © 2009 by Edward M. Kennedy. Reprinted by permission of Twelve Books/Hachette Book Group, New York, N.Y. All rights reserved.