Advice from My Younger Self

Yesterday, I spent a lot of time thinking about, and discussing with friends, things we would tell our younger selves. This morning, a New York Times article about Ted Kennedy reminded me that my younger self could teach me a few lessons as well.

Ted Kennedy is my personal hero. Wealthy and well connected, he didn’t need to fight for his own advancement (though plenty of wealthy people do that anyway). He chose to devote his life to the advancement of others. He wanted to bring everyone up to the level of safety and comfort that his family enjoyed, starting with healthcare, which he called the “cause of his life.”

As a severely asthmatic child in a low-income family, I relied on health insurance from the state of Massachusetts for 14 years. The cause of his life was the starting point for my life. Without the quality healthcare I received while I was young, I never would have excelled at school or enjoyed the life-changing opportunities I’ve had because of academics.

I’ve always wanted a more comfortable lifestyle, but I also know that I have a responsibility to fight for the good of others the way Ted Kennedy fought for families like mine. Lately, I’ve become preoccupied with the former: building a happy life with all the bells and whistles and gym memberships and fancy kitchen knives a girl could ask for. It’s been awhile since I gave serious thought to the latter: building a meaningful life by helping others.

If I could step back in time, I would go back to the summer after my freshman year of college. That was the summer Ted Kennedy passed away. My brother and I stood in line for hours outside the JFK Library to pay our respects, trying not to cry, thinking the whole time, “Shit. Shit. Shit. Who can do what he did? Who will fight the good fight now?”

If my 19-year-old self could give me a piece of advice, I think it would be this:

Be like Ted.

Be the kind of person who is not defined by what they have, or what they can do, but by what they give of themselves for the betterment of others. Be Ted Kennedy as he was at the 1980 Democratic National Convention, when he conceded the presidential nomination to Jimmy Carter and, in letting go of his executive ambitions, chose to become one of the greatest legislators in American history.

I’ve included the full speech above and transcribed the final part here.

And may it be said of us, both in dark passages and in bright days, in the words of Tennyson that my brothers quoted and loved, and that have special meaning for me now:

I am a part of all that I have met

Though much is taken, much abides

That which we are, we are —

One equal temper of heroic hearts

Strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

… For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die.

The cause endures because there are people who know, who care, who keep on fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves. I want to be one of those people.

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