I woke this morning to find the world has lost Ruth Bader Ginsburg. As a Jewish woman, albeit one that
left her faith was not observant for many decades by the accounts I’ve read, I doubt she would appreciate the usual gestures endemic in Irish culture, linked as they are to a Christian view of the world. (I had originally typed “left her faith” in this sentence, but I have been informed by a friend that this is not appropriate for Judaism and saying she was not observant is. Thank you to Sophia for telling me this!!) I will say that wherever she is now, I hope she gains the rest and happiness she deserves after a lifetime of work and perseverance.
Today, there will be many, many tributes paid to the great woman, a legacy she has earned. And many of them will be better worded, more informed, better researched and probably more appropriate than what I am about to write. But I’m crying this morning and mourning the loss of a file, one we sorely needed in the US, especially given the announcement this morning that the Senate in the US is likely to push ahead with a vote on a Trump nominee, even after the debacle in the last year of Obama’s tenure.
I’ve already seen one comment on an Irish group, questioning why we care so much about someone who, after all, had so little influence on Ireland and Irish culture? Well I hope to address that in my words here – or at least partly address it.
First and foremost, RBG was a feminist. She was the second woman appointed to the US Supreme Court – in 1993. That’s within my lifetime. She was compelled to hide her second pregnancy until her teaching contract was renewed (1965). She has dealt with two bouts of concer, continued to work from her hospital bed when she broke some ribs a few years back and was thinking of her country up until her last minutes by all accounts – expressing a wish that her replacement would not be nominated by the current president of the USA. She thought of others. She upheld the law.
She was a file. The word in modern Irish means poet – and anyone who has read or heard some of her judgments will realise that she held and understood the power of words. But in our history, the filí were not just poets. They were the judges, the givers of law, the upholders of the law, the developers of the law. Our own Brigid was deemed deity of the filí, and her namesakes after her ( Brig Ambue -Brigit of the Cowless, Brig Briugu – Brigit of Hospitality, Brig Brethach – Brigit of the Judgments) in the Ulster cycle were the mother, wife and daughter of Senchas (translated as lore or tradition). Brigid cared about the law, cared about right judgement. Brig’s husband, Bres, in Caith Maigh Tuiread was brought down in the first instance by a wrong judgement and lost his kingship over it.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a file in the Irish tradition, of working with the law, changing it, as did the three Brigs of the Ulster cycle, when it was deemed unfair – particularly when it came to women. She was a liberal leader – not so far left or liberal as I’d like her to be, but nevertheless, the senior liberal judge on the Supreme Court in the past few years. She fought for equality for women. And yes, her remarks on the protests of Colin Kapernick and his fellow protestors were not supportive, which is a disappointment, but if even our deities are imperfect, then how can we expect more from our human heroes?
Because Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a hero of mine. A personal hero – she worked and fought in a male dominated profession, as I do. She paved the way for others to come after her – as I hope I do. She spoke out and voted with her conscience – as I hope to always do. She persisted, she persevered, she continued on. She accepted the weight of expectations on her and didn’t retire, but kept going to the end.
She was 87 when she passed away and she is a massive loss to the US, to this world. She showed us a way to fight the inequalities of the system, she showed us a way we might follow if we so choose. Hers is not the only way, but it is a way.
There are Jewish traditions and no doubt family traditions that her nearest and dearest will be following right now. If our grief is hard and long, imagine what those who knew her and loved her personally are feeling?
For those of us who admired her from afar, this is a time when “thoughts and prayers” might actually be appropriate. For myself, I will be lighting a candle in her honour today. And I will reflect on how I can use her example to further my own work in this world.
What can we do to continue her legacy and improve upon it?