Human beings are acutely aware of the passage of time. We order our lives around it, reflect on our successes and disappointments as our memories lengthen and the past recedes. We drown out the old year with excess and hedge our mortality by resolving to live more healthy lives in the new one. Especially during times of personal transition, we note society's losses while contemplating our own.
Great Britain buried the last of its WWI combat veterans this summer (just three soldiers from the Great War still survive). Very few people are alive today who even have memories of those terrible years. They are living echos of a past that the rest of us only know as history.
Then there are landmark deaths that seem to close out an era, or remind us of our youth and that our own experience is now part of history. For many, Ted Kennedy's death is such a milestone, and it will certainly be packaged that way in the media. I am too young to have been entranced by the Kennedy magic or outraged by Chappaquiddick. My grandmother couldn't stand the Kennedys but some of my cousins were close to them. My personal awareness of Ted Kennedy began with the Democratic Presidential Primary battle in the summer of 1980, and - through several degrees of separation - with the 1962 Buick Skylark convertible that Ethel Kennedy sold to my Uncle. I once saw him in a gray business suit standing alone outside T.F. Greene airport in Rhode Island with a small dog, and for such a large man at that moment he seemed frail and oddly vulnerable.
I suspect it will be a different generation that feels nostalgia or personal connection to the death of Senator Kennedy than the one that felt the loss of Michael Jackson, or for that matter with the very few remaining soldiers of the Great War. Their deaths shouldn't be about our own mortality, but even as we eulogize and reflect on the accomplishments of their lifetimes, we are always aware of the progress of our own.