He turns 77 tomorrow in a life much longer than those of his brothers Joe, Jack and Bobby, who died young and violently before he had reached the age of 40.
In four decades since then, Ted Kennedy has lived in the shadow of legends yet survived to make his own place in history, the last son of a generation "wired to be optimistic," as he tells a reporter today.
“That’s the way I was born and brought up,” he says. “That’s the way we’re dealing with the challenges we’re facing now.”
He is living his last days struggling against the ravages of a brain tumor but refusing to give up the political fight of his life in the Senate for universal health care. He collapsed at Barack Obama's inaugural lunch, but Ted Kennedy has spent his life coming back from setbacks.
"Since the diagnosis of his brain cancer last May," the New York Times reports, "Mr. Kennedy has been given all manner of tributes and testimonials, lifetime achievement awards, medals of honor and standing ovations. But even as those accolades have provided sweet solace--and even some dark humor--as he endures grueling treatments, Mr. Kennedy...has been intent on racing time rather than looking back on it."
In these days of fear and anxiety, he is a living reminder of how much Americans can endure and overcome. Ted Kennedy said it best himself at the Democratic convention last summer:
"As I look ahead, I am strengthened by family and friendship. So many of you have been with me in the happiest days and the hardest days. Together we have known success and seen setbacks, victory and defeat.
"But we have never lost our belief that we are all called to a better country and a newer world."
Happy Birthday, Senator.