My wife walked with me out onstage and to the podium, held my face, and kissed me. And then she went to sit with the rest of our family. I could feel myself start to settle down.
And so on Monday evening, August 25, 2008, I fulfilled my personal dream that would never die. "It is so wonderful to be here," I declared to the cheering delegates. "Nothing, nothing was going to keep me away from this special gathering tonight."
I acknowledged the friends and family members in the hall: the people who had stood with me through the successes and setbacks, the victories and defeats, over the decades. I then made a vow that I would be on the floor of the United States Senate in January 2009 to continue the cause of my life—affordable health care as a fundamental right.
"There is a new wave of change all around us, and if we set our compass true, we will reach our destination—not merely victory for our party, but renewal for our nation."
As I approached my conclusion, the final phrases of my speech demanded a high note—a bugle call. They were a conjoining of John F. Kennedy’s words and my own. I took a breath and gathered my strength, as Jack's words and mine converged:
"And this November, the torch will be passed again to a new generation of Americans.
"And so with Barack Obama—for you and for me, for our country and for our cause—the work begins anew, the hope rises again, and the dream lives on."
It is that passing of the torch and that living dream that have inspired me to write this memoir. For several years, long before the prospects for my longevity had abruptly come into question, I had been building an archive of my memories, both personal and political, through an oral history project at the University of Virginia. I also had more than fifty years of personal notes and diaries that I kept. I'd supposed that they would be useful in an account of my life.
As I grappled with the dire implications of my illness, I realized that my own life has always been inseparable from that of my family. When I sit at the front porch of our Cape house, in the sunshine and sea-freshened air, I think of them often: my parents and my brothers and sisters, all departed now save for Jean and myself. And each alive and vibrant in my memory. I remember how each of us, distinct and autonomous from one another though we were, melded wholeheartedly into a family, a self-contained universe of love and deepest truths that could not be comprehended by the outside world.
My story is their story, and theirs is mine. And so it shall be in these pages.