Just when I thought things couldn’t get much worse this year, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. Her death is tragedy enough; its implications for our common future are staggering.
Of Hermia, perhaps the strongest of Shakespeare’s female characters in “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” it was said that “though she be but little, she is fierce.” In Shakespeare’s play, Hermia constantly rejects male authority figures in order to make a powerful claim on her personal sovereignty—especially in matters pertaining to love. I’ll lay matters of love aside for now, but I have no doubt that Justice Ginsburg, like Hermia, was a little-but-fierce force for good.
At any one time, there are always a few people among us who seem to walk in the light. They do good, enough good in fact to raise us all up and to push back the ever-lurking darkness. I believe Justice Ginsburg was such a person. Chief Justice John Roberts mourned her loss, calling her “a tireless and resolute champion of justice.” In a tribute aired by NPR, Ginsburg was described as “an unlikely pioneer; a diminutive and shy woman whose soft voice and large glasses hid an attitude and an intellect that was tough as nails.”
Justice Ginsburg was all that and more. She was an opera devotee who achieved almost rock star status. She never lost her sense of humor or her plain-spoken honesty. She was a serious person who did not take herself too seriously. When called out for nodding off during the 2015 State of the Union speech, she hinted that she may not have been an entirely “sober judge” during a pre-speech dinner with her Court colleagues.
Justice Ginsburg’s path to the Supreme Court was not an easy one. She had a family to raise; her husband was often in poor health. She was years ahead of her time: when she entered Harvard Law School in 1956, one of only nine women in a class of over five hundred, the dean of that institution asked her why she had taken a place that should have gone to a man.
Now that Justice Ginsburg is gone, the direction and juridical composition of the court is very much in question. As for who will succeed her, what should only be a question of intellectual honesty and legal competence will now become yet another divisive political debate, another ugly scar on our body politic.
Hermia has no lines n the final act of “A Midsummer’s Night Dream;” she simply disappears, never to appear on stage again. Her impassioned voice, her defiance of male authority, her devotion to autonomy, disappear with her. In that sudden silence, we realize our great loss. We miss Hermia’s fierceness. We look for her, we listen for her, we plead for her to return, but she is gone.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died just as Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, was beginning. She was a tzaddik, a person of great righteousness. In her final hours, her last fervent wish, dictated to her granddaughter, was that that she would not be replaced until a new president was installed. While that wish may be denied her, may the years to come and her memory be a blessing to all of us.
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with a home in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine. Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com