parker palmer on the death of RBG

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.

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