[As we mourn the loss and celebrate the life of a woman who committed herself to lasting and respectful change, here are a few quotes]:
“Women will have achieved true equality when men share with them the responsibility of bringing up the next generation.”
“So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.”
“I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.”
“Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”
“I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.”
- Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)
Last night I heard the sad news: Ruth Bader Ginsburg—aka The Notorious R.B.G.—had died.
The first movement of my heart was shock and grief at the loss of a truly great human being. She fought the good fight for basic human rights for all, and was loved by people ranging from Antonin Scalia to Black rap artists. But my grief was quickly replaced by political calculations that drowned out my instinctive human response.
Then a voice rose up saying, “No! Stop. Return to the first movement of your heart and feel the deep humanity of this moment. There will be time for politics, but the seeds of salvation are found in allowing yourself to be purely human at a time when that’s what matters most. Allow your heart to break, and it will break open, not apart. If you don’t, you’ll become part of the problem.”
Now, twelve hours later, I’m grateful for that voice. The collapse of respect—even respect for death—is one of the underlying illnesses of American culture. Yes, the nearly 200,000 American deaths from COVID-19 have political implications. But first and foremost, each of them is a human loss, deeply and forever felt by family members and friends. That truth must come first, before we turn to the politics, or we will have lost all that truly matters, all chance of crafting a politics worthy of the human spirit.
The moment when mortality, ephemerality, uncertainty, suffering, or the possibility of change arrives can split a life in two. Facts and ideas we might have heard a thousand times assume a vivid, urgent, felt reality. We knew them then, but they matter now. They are like guests that suddenly speak up and make demands upon us; sometimes they appear as guides, sometimes they just wreck what came before or shove us out the door. We answer them, when we answer, with how we lead our lives. Sometimes what begins as bad news prompts the true path of a life, a disruptive visitor that might be thanked only later. Most of us don’t change until we have to, and crisis is often what obliges us to do so. Crises are often resolved only through a new identity and new purpose, whether it’s that of a nation or a single human being.
- Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby (2013)
The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. Having that real though limited power to put established institutions into question, imaginative literature has also the responsibility of power. The storyteller is the truthteller.
We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.
- Ursula Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind
[We learned a lot about the Corrymeela community in Ireland when Pádraig Ó Tuama was with us last winter. Corrymeela has been posting “Prayers for Community in a Time of Pandemic” that are worth following. This prayer was one that we read together at a recent SSU community meeting]:
God of the scales held in her hands, God of the scales that fell from his eyes: we pray for those who have waited far too long for justice; and for those who have taken far too long to see that systems said to be balanced and blind work for some but not for all. May repentance come quick, not from a fear of being condemned, but in the hope of being set free from the seesaw of us–them, win–lose, and from the blindness of seeing only what we want to be true.