NEWFANE — When asked how she wanted to be remembered, Ruth Bader Ginsburg said:
“Someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.”
I was sitting by the lake with my friend and closest political confidant, Teddy Waszazak, as we received the news of her passing. This is a moment I won't soon forget. I looked at my phone, I gasped, and I slammed it down. Then I looked at him and said, “Ruth Bader Ginsburg died.”
He immediately got up, went inside, and began to furiously look up press sources, much like so many of us did in that moment, hoping, praying, that this was not correct.
Our first reaction, collectively as a nation, for a woman who deserves to be mourned, was crippling fear.
Fear that we each could feel travel through our bodies.
Fear that we were watching the last thread that held our independence and rights together as it broke.
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As I listened to the waves rush ashore, I was torn between taking in the greatness of this woman with whom we were fortunate to share a slice of history, and deep concern.
Fear for my children and future grandchildren. For my nieces and all my former students, now young women. For the Black and Brown folks in this country. For my immigrant sisters and brothers. For our LGBTQIA family, including myself. For all who will be harmed. For my own family. Most deeply, for our country.
We owe so much to her.
It is OK for people to feel hopeless. To write on social media “we are screwed,” “we are f--ed,” “I am scared,” “This is the end.” To commiserate with one another.
It does not mean we put it all on one woman or that we have given up.
It means we understand the gravity of the court. It means we know what this woman meant to the preservation of our rights and our republic.
For many women, it means we understand that her personal fight for equity is quite literally the fight that allowed us to do what we do, to lead, to have autonomy, to have power.
For my family, the fear of this exact moment had us in tears on election night in 2016.
Now this fear has become reality.
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It does not mean people will not rise. It means they feel sadness and fear. These are healthy and warranted emotions.
We must allow people to both feel what they are feeling and express it freely. They will not fall deeper and give up. People will gather strength from the raw authenticity of this moment. From the collective expression of loss. Let that expression - and thus strength - build. There is hope, even in this moment, as long as we allow it.
Do not discourage the authentic feelings. Instead embrace and hold one another, so that those authentic feelings may become the catalyst and power that we will need for the fight ahead.
These powerful feelings of fear and grief - they are our love and our strength. As room is given for these feelings, this will become the fuel that keeps this fire lit.
The toughest fights many of us have waged in our lifetimes came out of this place of fear, loss, sadness, and grief.
In fact, it was my own darkest moment, the deepest loss that I have ever experienced, that has inspired my strongest fight yet for justice. This did not happen by foregoing despair, but rather by allowing it.
In my lifetime, every time I feel I can not go on in the fight for justice, I think of the tenacity of the Notorious RBG.
I often think of her words when fighting for justice: “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”
We mustn't fear darkness, we must allow it to bring us light.
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Right now is the moment to feel and express freely this loss and devastation. We will not fall deeper and give up, for Ruth Bader Ginsburg would not have. We will gather strength from the raw authenticity of this moment. Our collective expression of loss is from what our strength will build.
Just days before her death, she said: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
Let this be your inspiration. Let this be your fight.
Fight for her, as she has done for all of us, and let us fulfill her dying wish. There is hope, even this time, as we will fight the darkness longer and harder than ever before - and out of that there will be light.
Grieve, breathe, gather, and get ready, for this is going to be the fight of our lives, and we are going to fight it with the tenacity and strength that she always would, because we must use whatever talent we have and work to the best of our abilities to repair the tears in our society and make things even just a little bit better.
In Jewish tradition we say, “May her memory be a blessing.”
“All rise! For the honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg.”