“I’m surprised by the depth of my sadness,” I say, tears falling from eyes still swollen from the news of the day before. “She meant a lot to a lot of people who fought for justice, especially for the oppressed,” my sweetheart comforts.
Yes. A lot. From little girls to longtime lawyers.
One gift of the many past deaths of those I cherished is that loss of a life—no matter how extraordinary— can be seen with some measure of perspective. A week later, my eyes clearer, I see how Ruth paved my personal path for decades.
In the 1970s while she argued landmark cases on women’s rights, I was a budding feminist. I read Ms. Magazine monthly. I marched in protest to sexist policies. I applied to law school.
The announcement of RBG’s 1993 appointment was unforgettable. I sat glued to the television watching a woman of 5 foot 2 like me bringing hope for our country’s good.
She taught at Columbia Law School and co-authored the first textbook on sex discrimination.
Her writings and rulings from the Supreme Court were my curriculum for nearly a decade when, a law school adjunct, I taught Women and the Law. I became a columnist for the Women’s Law Journal, 30 years after RBG co-founded the Women’s Rights Law Reporter.
Hearing her speak at a Harvard Law School graduation on warm day in May was thrilling. My joy was only surpassed by seeing my child in his cap and gown.
Her victories and her strategies plant in me the knowing that, for each of us, there is a time when we are called to that which is ours to do. When Ginsburg was at the ACLU, she oversaw hundreds of cases of discrimination. One summer day I phoned the ACLU. It was time for our state to pursue the right for same sex couples to marry. It was our law firm’s time to further ACLU’s mission of our state motto—equality before the law—.
Her dissent in the face of a disappointment—the overturning by the Supreme Court of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act—catapulted her into fame. Shy by nature, she became a cultural icon in the final decade of her life, showing up everywhere from an Oscar winning documentary to the tiny tree ornaments I gave to my law partners for Christmas. She inspired generations despite never seeking the spotlight. For this she will be my teacher all of my days.
Last month RBG was to come to our city to celebrate the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. We were beyond excited. Instead, a month later I was glued to a screen watching her memorial service with the same fervent attention as the day she was sworn in. My heart—once swelling with hope—now a horrible ache.
I hope my days will be even longer than hers. Yes, I do my pushups.
Is it possible to take such a momentous loss and turn it into hope? To possibility? To good? Again, the words and wisdom of Ruth show the way.
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
We may not be able to fulfill her “most fervent wish” that she not be replaced until we have a new president. But we can honor the Notorious RBG by asking What would Ruth do?
Our grief is palpable.
May our grit be greater.
And it’s our turn.