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Monday, 26 March 2012 17:09

Jonathan Klate: A candidate's connection

Written by  Jonathan Klate |

Retired Amherst gentleman John Kick is not known as a political activist. In the Springfield union hall where he ventured last October to hear Democratic senatorial candidate Elizabeth Warren, he might have seemed a world-weary citizen with vague curiosity about the professor turned politician.

But John's sorrowful demeanor and disconsolate eyes betrayed a woefully wounded heart. His son, Gabe, took his own life just a month earlier, at the age of 28. John keeps moving, somehow, in the dreadful private agony understood only by parents who persist in such an aftermath.

John's humility and love for his son have him contemplating everything he said and did as a father, pursuing understanding and accepting heartbroken responsibility for his assumed complicity in the inscrutable mystery of what happened to his boy.

He is also aware of how Gabe struggled with despair as he sought traction in this fractured economy into which his cohort has come of age, where a tiny number of staggeringly rich oligarchs are permitted to extract profit undreamed of by monarchs of old while good jobs are harder to find than they have been for generations and in which human services, including mental health care, are costly and scarce.

Warren's stellar academic career confirms her brilliance. Her intrepid grappling with powerful financiers and bureaucrats has proven her courageous fighting spirit.

Yet brains and guts with no heart might make a battling wonk. John wanted to know if something deeper motivates her public service. He waited until the photo-op line ended, then spoke softly to her about Gabe's death after groping for meaning, for work, for help. "We are failing our children," he said.

She waved folks away to create an envelope of privacy for the two of them to continue an intimate conversation. She listened, deeply. Her sympathetic attention felt like that of a close friend. She agreed that there is a continuum that extends from families to communities and that government is a crucial part of this matrix of care.

A month later Warren returned to the Valley for a Northampton fundraiser. John was in the audience again. As she spoke to the crowd he heard her intone, "We are failing our children." These words, now hers, had been his.

Recently I had the opportunity to ask Elizabeth about her encounter with John. She spoke to me of the poignancy of that October moment, his bravery in bringing himself to meet her and trusting her with the rawness of his grief, his concern for all of the other young people still needing help. She deeply respected his drawing upon the reservoir of his bereavement as a source of inspiration to make a difference for other young people, to bring as much good out of something awful as one can understand how to do.

"When someone touches my heart," she said to me, "and I have a chance to reach back and touch theirs, I feel such a sense of gratitude to have this opportunity to accept my share of responsibility for what we need to do."

"About 30 years ago we turned in a different direction as a country and we started worrying more about those who had already made it and less about how to create the right opportunities for the next kid to make it and the kid after that # I'm in this race because I now have grandchildren. The whole reason that I'm running is that I grew up in an America committed to opportunity for kids and I want my grandchildren to grow up in an America that's committed to opportunity."

"The way I see it is that government has the ability to help us do the things together we can't do alone. It is my responsibility to support my children. It is my responsibility to discipline my children. It is my responsibility to guide my children. But it is all of our responsibility to provide schools for our children."

"We are making investments every single day ... paying taxes ... investing in big oil companies with billions of dollars ... investing in hedge fund managers ... investing in multi-national companies that hide money overseas. I want to invest it in our kids and our future. I want a world in which all kids get a real chance here in the United States to have a good education, and not to be saddled with crushing debt that keeps them from ever even getting started in the economic game. I want to make those investments. You know, it's not very sexy stuff, in building roads, bridges and sewers, water and Internet so that we've got the right conditions for businesses to grow so there really are jobs and opportunities."

She took my hand and said, "Please, if you see Mr. Kick, tell him I think of him every day."

Brains, guts ... and heart. If you know another public figure with more of all three, well, I'd like to meet them.

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