I stepped into the committee room and slipped into a seat near the back. The hearing was sparesely attended, as one might expect at the close of regular business hours on a Washington weekday. I myself planned to spend a short period of time seeing my boss, the senator for whom I was working as a staff assistant, in action.

What surprised me, however, was that my attention was immediately captured, not by my senator, but by the realization that Zeus had descended from Mount Olympus to take one of the committee seats.

From my vantage point, light was hitting Senator Kennedy from the side and behind. The angle made his hair glow, to the point that it almost seemed as if white flames were circling his head. With his already imposing stature, the detail added that final commanding touch that made me think for a moment of how appreciative I was not to be the one facing his scrutiny from the spot at the testimonail table. I couldn’t look away.

***

Many people – most of whom, I had to imagine, had never watched C-SPAN coverage of the Senate floor – expected things to happen when they entered the Senate gallery. I made a point during my tours of the Capitol to let my visitors know that the odds were good they weren’t going to see anything quite like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

Such was the case as I led two visitors into the gallery on a random weekday. We settled into seats and looked down and into the chamber…

…where Senator Kennedy stood, his face red and angry. He had been angered by actions taken by his colleagues across the aisle in the Judiciary Committee, and he was ready to make sure people knew about it.

Kennedy’s voice rang through the chamber, loud and ragged with fury. I watched him gesture, adding emphasis to his words, and then I turned to the visitors.

Their jaws were dropped.

We sat there for several minutes, listening to the lion of the Senate roar his mightiest. By the time he finished his speech, it was difficult to resist the urge to stand and applaud. After we made our way out of the gallery and back into the marble hallways of the building, I laughed.

“Clearly, the Senator proved me wrong, in terms of low-key gallery experiences,” I said. “That was very rare. And, um, awesome.”

One of the visitors slowly shook his head.

“That was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” he said.

I had to agree.

***

A friend of mine put it best this morning when she remarked on Twitter: “It seems silly to say, but I always kind of assumed Ted Kennedy would live forever.”

Thank you, Senator.

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